NBA and Celtics legend Bill Russell, ‘most prolific champ in American sports’ dies

(NEXSTAR) — One of the greatest NBA players in history, Bill Russell, died at the age of 88, his family announced Sunday.

Russell, called “the most prolific winner in American sports history” by his family, was an 11-time NBA champion, captain of the gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic team, and the first black head coach of any North American professional sports team. ,

Born on February 12, 1934, in Monroe, Louisiana, Russell and his family later moved to California. He attended high school in Oakland and led the University of San Francisco to the NCAA championships in 1955 and 1956. He also won a gold medal in the 1956 Olympics.

Russell was drafted by the St. Louis Hawks in the first round of the 1956 NBA Draft, but was soon traded to the Boston Celtics. He spent 13 years at Boston – 10 as a player and three as a coach. At that time the team had won 11 championships.

He was the first black head coach in NBA history when he became player-coach in 1966. He retired after the 1969 NBA Finals, but later spent four years and half a season as coach of Sacramento as coach and general manager of the Seattle SuperSonics. kings.

The Hall of Famer was named Most Valuable Player five times and was a 12-time All-Star. In 1980, Russell was voted the greatest player in NBA history by basketball writers. He remains the game’s most prolific winner and an epitome of selflessness, winning with defense and rebounding while leaving the scoring for others. Often, this meant Wilt Chamberlain, the only player of that era who was a worthy opponent of Russell.

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Russell’s number 6 jersey was retired by the Celtics in 1972. He earned a spot on the NBA’s 25th anniversary team in 1970 and the 35th anniversary team in 1980. In 1996, he was hailed as one of the 50 Greatest Players of the NBA. In 2009, the MVP trophy of the NBA Finals was named in his honor.

In 2013, a statue was unveiled at the City Hall Plaza in Russell’s, Boston, surrounded by blocks of granite, with quotes on leadership and character. Russell was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975, but did not attend the ceremony, stating that he should not have been elected as the first African American. (The first black player in the NBA was Chuck Cooper.)

In 2019, Russell accepted his Hall of Fame ring at a private gathering. “I thought others before me should have got that respect,” he tweeted. “It’s nice to see the progress.”

“But for all the victories, Bill’s understanding of the struggle illuminated his life,” Russell’s family said in a statement. From boycotting the 1961 exhibition game to [unmasking] Long-tolerated discrimination leading Mississippi’s first integrated basketball camp in the fiery wake of the murder of Medgar Evans, until decades of activism finally recognized by the receipt of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010, Bill described as an unforgivable candor. With injustice called out that his intention will disrupt the status quo, and with a powerful example, though never his humble intention, will forever inspire teamwork, selflessness and thoughtful change. ,

Russell was marching in Washington in 1963, when Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, and he supported Muhammad Ali when the boxer was bullied for refusing to enlist in the military draft was.

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In 2011, President Barack Obama awarded Russell the Medal of Freedom.

“Bill Russell is someone who has stood up for the rights and dignity of all men,” Obama said at the ceremony. “When a restaurant refused to serve the Black Celtics, he refused to play in the scheduled game. He tolerated humiliation and vandalism, but he focused on making teammates, whom he knew from better players. loved and made possible the success of so many who would follow.”

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement Sunday that Russell was “the greatest champion of all team sports.”

“The Bill stood for something much bigger than sport: the values ​​of equality, respect and inclusion that they inculcated in the DNA of our league. At the height of his athletic career, Bill strongly advocated for civil rights and social justice, a legacy he passed on to generations of NBA players who followed in his footsteps,” Silver said. “Through taunts, threats and unimaginable adversity, Bill has risen above all this and stayed true to his belief that everyone deserves to be treated with respect.

Russell “died in peace” with his wife Jeanine on Sunday. The cause of his death has not been disclosed yet.

His family said arrangements for Russell’s memorial service would be announced in the coming days.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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