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Bill Russell, a civil rights activist and an 11-time NBA champion who played for the Boston Celtics, has passed away at the age of 88. Former President Barack Obama has led the honors.
Russell won 11 championships with the Celtics between 1956 and 1969, during one of the most dominating periods in the history of the team. However, Russell experienced tremendous bigotry and harassment while he was a member of the Boston Celtics.
But throughout his life, Russell fought for equality by using his position. Notably, he was present at the March on Washington in 1963 when Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, and he supported Muhammad Ali when the boxer came under fire for opposing being drafted into the military.
Russell received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011, which is the nation’s highest civilian honor.
After hearing of his passing, Obama tweeted: “Today, we lost a giant.” As tall as Bill Russell was, his legacy as a player and a person reaches much higher.
In addition, Russell helped the United States win the gold medal at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, as well as two NCAA championships in San Francisco in 1955 and 1956. These accomplishments helped Russell go on to win the NBA MVP award five times and be an All-Star 12 times.
Over the course of 13 seasons (1956–1969) with the Celtics, Russell averaged 15.1 points and 22.5 rebounds. He was originally admitted to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975 as a player, and then again in 2021 as a coach. The Celtics retired his No. 6 jersey.
In a statement released on Sunday, his family said: “It is with a very heavy heart that we would want to send along to all of Bill’s friends, admirers, and followers: with his wife Jeannine by his side, Bill Russell, the most successful athlete in American sports history, died away peacefully today at the age of 88.” Plans for his memorial service will be revealed soon.
In addition to his civil rights advocacy, he is regarded as one of the greatest victors in US sports history and the greatest defensive player in NBA history.
In a city and a nation where race is sometimes a topic of contention, the Louisiana native also made a lasting impression as a black athlete.
Along with Senator John Lewis, business mogul Warren Buffett, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and baseball legend Stan Musial, Obama presented Russell with the Medal of Freedom in 2011.
Russell claimed that his parents gave him the confidence to shrug off racist teasing while he was growing up in the segregated South and later in California.
The man Bill Russell and his numerous records
Russell, a center who is 6 feet 10 inches tall, never scored more than 18.9 points per game over the course of his 13 seasons, with each season seeing him score more rebounds than points. He consistently averaged over 20 rebounds per game for ten seasons. The record for rebounds in a game is 55, which is held by his buddy and adversary, Wilt Chamberlain. He once had 51 rebounds.
After Auberach retired in 1966 following the Celtics’ championship, Russell took over as player-coach.
Nearly ten years before Frank Robinson became the manager of the Cleveland Indians in baseball, he was the first black head coach in NBA history.
Although Boston had the greatest regular-season record in the NBA, its championship run came to an end when it was defeated by Chamberlain and the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Division playoffs.
In 1968 and 1969, Russell led the Celtics to consecutive championships while defeating Chamberlain in a seven-game playoff series each time. After the 1969 NBA Finals, Russell announced his retirement. He came back for a four-year, largely successful but unfulfilling run as coach and general manager of the Seattle SuperSonics, followed by a less successful half-season as coach of the Sacramento Kings.
In Boston’s City Hall Plaza, a statue of Russell bearing statements about character and leadership was unveiled in 2013.
Russell was admitted to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975, but he declined to attend the ceremony because he felt he shouldn’t have been the first African American chosen. (His choice was Chuck Cooper, the first black player in the NBA.)
In a private ceremony in 2019, Russell took possession of his Hall of Fame ring. I felt others before me should have received that accolade, ‘he tweeted. “Good to see development.”
He also had a great sense of humor. Five other illustrious centers, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Alonzo Mourning, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, and Dikembe Mutombo, joined him on stage to win the NBA Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2017 NBA Awards.