Bill Russell, one of the most successful athletes in American history, passed away on Sunday. At the end of his career, the pillar of the Boston Celtics dynasty, he won 11 NBA titles. According to a statement on social media, the Hall of Famer died peacefully with his wife Jeannine by his side. In the near future, details of his memorial service will be released.
Five-time MVP Russell was tied for the most titles in a North American sports league with Henri Richard. Russell was honored with the Medal of Freedom in 2011 by President Barack Obama, the nation’s highest civilian honor, for his advocacy as well as his winning record.
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“But for all the winning, Bill’s understanding of the struggle is what illuminated his life,” the statement added. His activism was finally recognized by the Presidential Medal of Freedom he received in  for his decades of activism, which included boycotting an exhibition game in 1961 to expose long-tolerated racism, as well as leading Mississippi’s first integrated basketball camp after the murder of Medgar [Evers]. Although it was never his humble aim, Bill’s brutal honesty and powerful example will eternally encourage teamwork, altruism, and intelligent change. He spoke out injustice with an unforgiving candor that would disturb the status quo.”
“Bill’s wife, Jeannine, and his many friends and family thank you for keeping Bill in your prayers. Perhaps you’ll relive one or two of the golden moments he gave us, or recall his trademark laugh as he delighted in explaining the real story behind how those moments unfolded. And we hope each of us can find a new way to act or speak up with Bill’s uncompromising, dignified and always constructive commitment to principle. That would be one last, and lasting, win for our beloved #6.”
It’s not hyperbole to argue that Russell was the greatest winner in North American sports; it’s a plain truth that he dominated the sport for more than a decade and a half.
To go along with his 1956 Olympic gold medal, Russell led the University of San Francisco to consecutive NCAA titles and a run of 55 victories in a row during his college years. In his junior year, the NCAA widened the lane and prohibited basket interference as a result of his dominance as a 6-foot-9 center.
As a rookie in 1956-57, he led the Celtics to a franchise-record 12 NBA Finals appearances, winning 11 of them. While Wilt Chamberlain was the most dominant player in college basketball at the time, his shot-blocking prowess helped transform the NBA.
“Bill Russell was the greatest champion in all of the team sports,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver stated in a statement. “The countless accolades that he earned for his storied career with the Boston Celtics — including a record 11 championships and five MVP awards — only begin to tell the story of Bill’s immense impact on our league and broader society.”
Our league’s ideals of equality, respect, and inclusiveness were branded into the DNA of our league by Bill. At the peak of his career, Bill fought tirelessly for civil rights and social justice, a legacy he passed on to generations of NBA players. Despite the insults, threats, and unimaginable hardships, Bill never wavered in his conviction that everyone is entitled to respect and dignity in life.
This year, for the first time in nearly 35 years, we were able to see Bill Russell at every major NBA event, including the Finals, where he presented MVP LeBron James with the Bill Russell Trophy.
“I cherished my friendship with Bill and was thrilled when he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. I often called him basketball’s Babe Ruth for how he transcended time. Bill was the ultimate winner and consummate teammate, and his influence on the NBA will be felt forever. We send our deepest condolences to his wife, Jeannine, his family, and his many friends.”
NBA legend Bill Russell has died at the age of 88.
Russell was an 11x NBA champion, 5x NBA MVP, and won 2 NBA championships as the first Black head coach in NBA history. pic.twitter.com/6dhXU1q23t
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) July 31, 2022
Russell finished his career with a career-high 21,620 rebounds, good for 22.5 rebounds per game, and 12 seasons in a row with at least 1,000 rebounds.
Coach Red Auerbach stepped down after the Celtics won their eighth straight championship in 1966 and chose Russell his successor. Russell’s appointment as the first black head coach of a major league team in any sport was historic. Boston, where he had to contend with racism throughout his career, was even more significant since he led the Celtics to two NBA championships in 1968 and 1969. He went on to coach at Seattle and Sacramento, among other stops.
A year before Michael Jordan’s meteoric ascent to fame in the 1990s, Russell was largely recognized as the best player in NBA history. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as the first black player in 1975.
“Bill Russell was a pioneer — as a player, as a champion, as the NBA’s first Black head coach and as an activist. He paved the way and set an example for every other Black player who came into the league after him, including me,” Jordan said during a statement. “The world has lost a legend. My condolences to his family and may he rest in peace.” Stay tuned with us only on Lee Daily