Aerophobia grounded the dreams of CSU hoops legend Bill Green

Ethan Lee

William E. Green, more commonly known as Bill, was a basketball phenom at Colorado State University in the early 1960s. During his time at CSU, Green elevated the men’s basketball program to unprecedented heights while accumulating numerous individual accolades. 

In his three seasons at CSU, Green led the team in both scoring and rebounds. His career total of 1,682 points ranks second all-time in school history, and his career rebounding total of 726 also ranks inside the top 10. The astounding athletic ability of Green helped propel the Rams to the playoffs in each of Green’s three seasons as a starter.

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In Green’s sophomore season, the Rams finished with a regular-season record of 17-9 and a share of the Mountain States Athletic Conference title. CSU would go on to play in the National Invitation Tournament and lose in the quarterfinals to Saint Louis. 

In the following year, the Rams, led by Green, achieved a regular-season record of 18-9 and a third-place MSAC Conference finish. Thanks to Green’s regular-season dominance, the Rams again received a postseason berth, eventually losing in the first round of the NIT to Holy Cross. 

Green’s final season as a Ram was undoubtedly his most successful. During his senior campaign, Green averaged a staggering 28 points per game. During this season, Green gave his best performance as a Ram against the University of Denver, scoring a game-high 48 points, a University record that still stands to this day.   

Bill Green, photo courtesy of CSU Silver Spruce

Green was also recognized as a first-team All-American for the 1963 season, an honor that no other Ram had been given before. As a team, CSU once again found themselves in postseason play, but this time they had qualified for the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, the Rams suffered a first-round exit at the hands of Oklahoma City University. 

As his time at CSU was drawing to a close, the whole country expected Green to take his talents to the professional ranks. Such high praise proved to be accurate, as Green was selected in not one, but three professional sports league drafts. 

Green was drafted by the Boston Red Sox (MLB), Dallas Cowboys (NFL) and, most notably, the Boston Celtics with the eighth pick of the 1963 NBA draft. However, his seemingly limitless potential unfortunately never came to fruition due to a fear that developed in his early years as a college student. 

Green suffered from aerophobia, the fear of flying. His fear developed in his college years during the team’s various road trips. Green elaborated on his fear after being drafted by the Celtics in 1963.

“One time, we were on our way back from Utah,” Green once remembered. “The plane was definitely out of control. Baggage was falling out at the back of the plane. People had started praying; everyone was panicked. I decided it was time to be concerned. Then I got stuck in a rainstorm over Mississippi. After that, I just couldn’t deal with it.”   

Sadly, Green was forced to make a choice as the Celtics embarked for their first preseason road trip: fly or relinquish his spot on the team. On that day, Green walked away from not only basketball, but all professional sports.

His mesmerizing on-court prowess and natural feel for the game faded into distant memory, and Green set out to discover a life without basketball. 

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In the following years, Green received a master’s degree from Brooklyn College and became a teacher for the public elementary schools in New York City’s low-income district. In time, Green eventually rose to the rank of principal, where he served for many years at the Jordan L. Mott School.

In his time as a principal, Green was recognized with numerous awards regarding his work with inner-city children. 

In 1988, just six years before his unexpected death caused by a heart attack, Green was inducted into the CSU Athletics Hall of Fame. His number 24 jersey hangs high in the rafters of Moby Arena to memorialize one of CSU’s truly outstanding student-athletes.

Ethan Lee can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @EthanLee_99.