BOSTON (AP) — Bill Russell, the NBA great who anchored the Boston Celtics dynasty that won 11 championships in 13 years — the last two as the first Black head coach in any major American sport — and the Nationals alongside Martin Luther King Jr. marched for rights. ., died on Sunday. He was 88 years old.
His family posted the news on social media saying that he died along with Russell’s wife Jeanine. The statement did not specify a cause of death, but Russell was not well enough to present the NBA Finals MVP Trophy in June due to a prolonged illness.
Read more: 10-month-old girl injured during shooting in Kensington section of Philadelphia
“Bill’s wife, Jeanine, and many of his friends and family thanked Bill for keeping him in their prayers. Perhaps you’ll relive a moment or two of the golden moments he gave, or remember his trademark laugh. as he delighted in explaining the real story behind those moments unfolding,” the family statement said. A new way of acting or speaking can be found with a constructive commitment. This will be one last and lasting victory for our beloved #6.”
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement 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.
A Hall of Famer, five-time Most Valuable Player, and 12-time All-Star, Russell was voted the greatest player in NBA history by basketball writers in 1980. He remains the game’s most prolific winner as a player and an epitome of selflessness who won with defense and rebounding while leaving scoring for others. Often, this meant the only player at the time was Wilt Chamberlain, a worthy opponent of Russell.
But Russell dominated the only position he cared about: two from 11 championships.
The Louisiana native made a lasting impression as a black athlete in a city and country—where races are often a flash point. He marched in Washington in 1963, when King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, and he supported Muhammad Ali after the boxer was bullied for refusing to enlist in the military draft.
“It seems unimaginable to be the greatest champion in your sport, to revolutionize the way the game is played, and to be a social leader all at once, but that’s what Bill Russell was,” the Boston Celtics said in a statement.
In 2011, President Barack Obama awarded Russell the Medal of Freedom along with Congressman John Lewis, billionaire investor Warren Buffett, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and baseball great Stan Musiel.
“Bill Russell is the man who has stood up for the rights and dignity of all men,” Obama said at the ceremony. “He went with the king; He was standing with Ali. When a restaurant refused to serve Black Celtics, it refused to play in the scheduled game. He tolerated humiliation and vandalism, but he focused on making the teammates he loved better players and making possible the success of so many who would follow. ,
Russell said that when he was growing up in the segregated South and later in California, his parents instilled in him a calm confidence that allowed him to shrug off the racist taunts.
“Years later, people asked me what I had to do,” Russell said in 2008. “Unfortunately, or fortunately, I was never able to do anything. From the very first moment I was alive, there was an impression that my mother and father loved me.” It was Russell’s mother telling him to disregard comments from people who could see him playing in the yard.
“Whatever they say, good or bad, they don’t know you,” she remembered him saying. “They’re wrestling with their own demons.”
But it was Jackie Robinson who gave Russell a road map for tackling racism in his sport: “Jackie was a hero to us. He always conducted himself as a man. He showed me the way to be a man in professional sports.”
The feeling was mutual, Russell learned, when Robinson’s widow, Rachel, called and asked him to be a pallbearer at her husband’s funeral in 1972.
Read more: 5-year-old boy seriously injured after falling from window in Fishtown: Philadelphia Police
“He hung up the phone and I asked myself, ‘How do you become a hero to Jackie Robinson? Russell said. “I was overjoyed.”
William Felton Russell was born on February 12, 1934, in Monroe, Louisiana. His family moved to the West Coast when he was a child, and he went to high school in Oakland, California and then the University of San Francisco. He led the Dons to the NCAA Championships in 1955 and 1956, and won a gold medal at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics in Australia.
Celtics coach and general manager Rad Auerbach liked Russell so much that he made a trade with the St. Louis Hawks for the second pick in the draft. He promised the Rochester Royals, who had the No. 1 pick, a fascinating tour of the Ice Capades, also run by Celtics owner Walter Brown.
Still, Russell arrived in Boston and complained that he was not that good. “People said it was a wasted draft option, wasted money,” he recalled. “He said, ‘He’s not that good. He can only block shots and rebounds.’ And Red said, ‘That’s it.'”
The Celtics also picked Tommy Heinsohn and Russell’s college teammate Casey Jones in the same draft. Although Russell joined the team late as he led America to Olympic gold, Boston finished the regular season with the league’s best record.
The Celtics won the NBA championship – their first of 17 – in a double-overtime seventh game against Bob Pettit’s St. Louis Hawks. The following season saw Russell win his first MVP award, but the Hawks won the title in the final rematch. The Celtics won it all again in 1959, starting an unprecedented series of eight consecutive NBA crowns.
A 6-foot-10 center, Russell never averaged more than 18.9 points during his 13 seasons, averaging more rebounds per game than points each year. For 10 seasons he averaged more than 20 rebounds. He once made 51 rebounds in a game; Chamberlain holds the record with 55.
Auerbach retired after winning the 1966 title, and Russell became the player-coach—the first black head coach in NBA history, and nearly a decade before Frank Robinson took over baseball’s Cleveland Indians. Boston finished with the second-best regular-season record in the NBA, and its title series ended with losses to Chamberlain and the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Division Finals.
Russell brought the Celtics back to the title in 1968 and ’69, each time winning a seven-game playoff series against Chamberlain. Russell retired after the ’69 final, a relatively successful – but incomplete – four-year stint as coach and GM of the Seattle SuperSonics and a less fruitful half-season as coach of the Sacramento Kings.
Russell’s number 6 jersey was retired by the Celtics in 1972. He earned a spot on the NBA’s 25th Anniversary Team of All Time in 1970, 35th Anniversary Team in 1980, and 75th Anniversary Team. In 1996, he was honored as one of the 50 Greatest Players of the NBA.
In 2009, the NBA Finals MVP trophy was named in his honor—even though Russell himself never won, as it was not awarded for the first time until 1969. However, Russell has traditionally presented the trophy for many years, the last time in 2019 to Kawhi Leonard; Russell was not due in 2020 due to the NBA bubble nor in 2021 due to COVID-19 concerns.
In 2013, a statue was unveiled at Russell’s City Hall Plaza in 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.”
Silver said he “often called the Babe Ruth of (Russell) basketball because of how he passed the time.”
“Bills was the ultimate winner and consummate teammate, and his impact on the NBA will be felt forever,” Silver said. “We send our deepest condolences to his wife, Jeanine, his family and his many friends.”
more news: NJ woman found guilty of murder in death of 17-month-old son
His family said arrangements for Russell’s memorial service would be announced in the coming days.