NBA great Bill Russell, the cornerstone of the Boston Celtics dynasty that won 11 titles and a powerful voice for social justice, has died at age 88, his family said Sunday.
“Bill Russell, one of the most prolific winners in American sports history, passed away peacefully today at the age of 88, with his wife Janine by his side,” a statement posted on social media said.
Russell’s 11 titles with the Celtics included eight in a row from 1959-1966. Today’s NBA Finals MVP award is in his name.
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He averaged 15.1 points and 22.5 rebounds per game for his career, establishing a famous rivalry with Wilt Chamberlain in the 1960s.
He would become the first black coach in the NBA and the first black player to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975.
Off the court, Russell was a major figure in the fight for civil rights, receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor, from President Barack Obama in 2011.
An announcement… pic.twitter.com/KMJ7pG4R5Z
— TheBillRussell (@RealBillRussell) 31 July 2022
“But for all the winners, it was Bill’s understanding of the struggle that brightened their lives,” the statement on Sunday’s Twitter page said.
“From boycotting a 1961 exhibition game to exposing long-tolerated discrimination to leading Mississippi’s first integrated basketball camp since the assassination of Medgar Evans, decades of activism Finally recognized by the president’s recovery of independence.
“Bill called out injustice with an unapologetic candor that he intended to disrupt the status quo, and with a powerful example that, though it was never his humble intention, would forever be teamwork, Bay. Lust will encourage thoughtful change.”
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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called Russell “the greatest champion in all of team sports, but added that his accolades” only begin to tell the story of Bill’s immense impact on our league and the wider society.
“Bill stood for something much bigger than sports: the values of equality, respect and inclusion that he stamped into the DNA of our league,” Silver said in a statement Sunday.
“At the height of his athletic career, Bill advocated passionately for civil rights and social justice, a legacy he passed on to generations of NBA players who followed in his footsteps.
“Through taunts, threats and unimaginable adversity, Bill rose above it all and stood by his belief that every person deserves to be treated with dignity.”
– ‘making things better’ –
The Lakers legend said Sunday that those beliefs, more than his ability on the court, influenced Magic Johnson’s love for Russell.
“He was one of the first athletes on the front lines fighting for social justice, equity, equality and civil rights,” Johnson said in a statement on Twitter.
“That’s why I admired and loved him so much. Throughout our friendship, he always reminded me about how to make things better in the black community.
Current Celtics players remember franchise legend
“Thank you for everything! RIP legend,” tweeted Jayson Tatum.
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Celtics teammate Jaylen Brown posted: “Rest In Peace Thank you for paving the way and inspiring so many.
“Today is a sad day but a great day to celebrate his legacy and what he stood for.”
Boston forward Grant Williams also tweeted his appreciation.
“You allowed me to be in the position I’m in today and you changed not only the league but the world,” Williams said on Twitter. “Forever 6.”
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