Bill Russell, the cornerstone of the Boston Celtics dynasty that won 11 NBA titles and a powerful voice for social justice, died Sunday at the age of 88, his family said.
“Bill Russell, the most prolific champ in American sporting history, passed away today at the age of 88 in peace with his wife Jeanine,” said a statement posted on Russell’s Twitter page.
US President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama – who awarded Russell the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011 – were among those who paid tribute to Russell’s contributions on and off the court.
“America’s promise is that we are all created equal and deserve equal treatment throughout life,” Biden said in a statement. “We never quite lived up to that promise, but Bill Russell made sure we never got away with it.”
eight titles in a row
Russell’s 11 titles with the Celtics included eight consecutive titles from 1959–1966. Today’s NBA Finals MVP Award is named after him.
He averaged 15.1 points and 22.5 rebounds per game for his career, building a famous rivalry with Wilt Chamberlain in the 1960s.
Russell became the first black coach in the NBA when he served as player-coach for the Celtics in 1966 and in 1975 became the first black player to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
His skills revolutionized NBA play, but Biden said that during his illustrious career, Russell “faced the racism and hatred inherent in every part of American life. Still, he never gave up. Throughout his life.” , he forced us to face the harsh truth. Everyone has the right to be treated with dignity and respect.
Russell’s family said that “an understanding of the struggle illuminated his life.”
“Bill invoked injustice with an unforgivable candor, intended to disrupt the status quo, and with a powerful example, though never his humble intention, would always inspire teamwork, selflessness, and thoughtful change.”
Obama said the world had “lost a giant.”
“As tall as Bill Russell stood, his legacy as a player and as a person rises far higher,” Obama said in a statement posted on Twitter.
“Perhaps more than anyone else, Bill knew what it took to win and what led him. On the court, he was the greatest champion in basketball history. Plus, he was a civil rights trailblazer, who became Dr. King. And standing with Muhammad Ali,” Obama said. “For decades, Bill tolerated humiliation and vandalism, but that never stopped him from speaking up for what was right. I loved the way he played, the way he coached, and the way he lived his life. learned.”
NBA commissioner Adam Silver called Russell “the greatest champion in all of the team’s sports”, but added that his praise “only tells the story of the bill’s immense impact on our league and wider society.”
“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,” Silver said.
‘Making things better’
The Lakers legend said on Sunday that his belief, more than his skill on the court, inspired Russell’s love of Magic Johnson, as he joined a slew of tributes.
“He was one of the first athletes on the frontline to fight for social justice, equality, equality and civil rights,” Johnson said. “Throughout our friendship, he always reminded me about making things better in the black community.”
Current Celtics stars Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown recalled the franchise legend, with the club saying in a statement that “Bill Russell’s DNA is woven through every element of the Celtics organization.”
Michael Jordan, who many people have inherited the title of greatest NBA player from Russell, said that Russell “led the way and set an example for every black player who came after him in the league, including me.”
“The world has lost a legend,” said Jordan, in a sentiment echoed by former New York Knicks great Patrick Ewing.