Bill Russell, great NBA and Celtics legend, dies aged 88

Bill Russell, the NBA great who has been with the Boston Celtics dynasty won 11 championships in 13 years – the last two as the first black head coach in any major U.S. sport — and marched for civil rights alongside Martin Luther King Jr., who died Sunday. He’s 88 years old.

His family posted on social media, saying that Russell had died with his wife, Jeannine, by his side. The statement did not give a cause of death.

“Bill’s wife, Jeannine, and many of his friends and family thank you for keeping Bill in your prayers. Perhaps you will relive a golden moment or two he gave us, or recalling his signature smile as he excitedly explained how the real story behind those moments unfolded,” the family statement said. “And we hope each of us can find a new way to act or speak up with Bill’s commitment to steadfast, decent, and always constructive principles. That will be the ultimate victory. and long for our beloved number 6.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement that Russell is “the greatest champion in all of team sports.”

“Bill represents something much bigger than sport: the values ​​of equality, respect and inclusion that he has embedded in the DNA of our league. At the height of his sporting career. , Bill has been a strong advocate for civil rights and social justice, a legacy he has surpassed Silver said. “Through taunts, threats, and unimaginable adversities Bill went above and beyond and remained true to his belief that everyone deserves to be treated fairly.

A Hall of Famer, 5 Times Most Valuable Player and 12 Times All-Star, Russell in 1980 was voted the greatest player in NBA history by basketball journalists. He remains the sport’s most winning player and a model of altruism, who won by defending and counter-attacking while leaving goals for others. Usually that means Wilt Chamberlain, the only player of the era who was a worthy rival to Russell.

But Russell dominated in the only metric he cared about: 11 championships to two.

The Louisiana native also left a lasting mark as a Black athlete in a city – and country – where racing is often the flashpoint. He was present in March in Washington in 1963, when Martin Luther King Jr gave the “I have a dream” speech, and he supported Muhammad Ali when the boxer was sanctioned for refusing to join the army. Translate.

In 2011, US President Barack Obama awarded Russell the Medal of Freedom along with Congressman John Lewis, billionaire investor Warren Buffett, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and baseball giant Stan Musial.

“Bill Russell, the man, was the man who stood up for the rights and dignity of all men,” Obama said at the ceremony. “He marched with King; he sided with Ali. When a restaurant refused to serve the Black Celtics, he refused to play in a scheduled match. He endured insults and vandalism, but he continues to focus on turning the teammates he loves into better players and creating success for so many to follow.”

Russell says that as he grew up in the South and later California, his parents instilled in him a calm confidence that helped him brush off racist taunts.

“Years later, people ask me what I’ve been through,” Russell said in 2008. “Unfortunately, or fortunately, I’ve never been through anything. me.” It was Russell’s mother who would tell him to ignore comments from people who could see him playing in the yard.

“Whatever they say, good or bad, they don’t know you,” he recalled her saying. “They’re struggling with their own demons.”

But it was Jackie Robinson who gave Russell a roadmap to deal with racism in his sport: “Jackie was a hero to us. He always behaved like a man. . He showed me the way to become a man in professional sports.”

Russell learned the feelings were mutual, when Rachel, Robinson’s widow, called and asked him to be a smoker at her husband’s funeral in 1972.

“She hung up and I asked myself, ‘How can I be a hero to Jackie Robinson?’,” Russell said. “I was very flattered.”

William Felton Russell was born on February 12, 1934 in Monroe, Louisiana. He was a kid when his family moved to the West Coast, and he attended high school in Oakland, California, and then the University of San Francisco. He led the Dons to NCAA championships in 1955 and 1956 and won a gold medal in 1956 at the Melbourne Olympics in Australia.

Celtics coach and general manager Red Auerbach was so coveted with Russell that he traded St. Louis Hawks for the second pick in the draft. He promised the Rochester Royals, the owner of the No. 1 pick, a lucrative visit by the Ice Capades, also run by Celtics owner Walter Brown.

However, Russell came to Boston to complain that he was not so good. “People said it was a wasteful draft choice, a waste of money,” he recalls. “They said, ‘He’s not good. All he can do is block shots and counter-attack.” And Red said, “Enough.”

The Celtics also selected Tommy Heinsohn and KC Jones, Russell’s college teammates, in the same draft. Although Russell joined the team late because he was leading the US to an Olympic gold medal, Boston ended the regular season with a league-best record.

The Celtics won the NBA championship – the first of 17 – in Saturday’s game in extra time Saturday against Bob Pettit’s St. Louis Hawks. Russell won his first MVP award the following season, but the Hawks won the title in the final rematch. The Celtics won again in 1959, starting an unprecedented eight-time NBA championship streak.

A 6-foot-10 center back, Russell has never averaged more than 18.9 points during his 13 seasons, averaging more rebounds per game than points each year. Over 10 seasons, he averaged more than 20 rebounds. He once had 51 rebounds in a game; Chamberlain holds the record with 55.

Auerbach retired after winning the 1966 championship, and Russell became the first black player and head coach in NBA history, and nearly a decade before Frank Robinson took over the team. Cleveland Indians baseball. Boston ended with the best regular-season record in the NBA, but their title streak ended with defeats to Chamberlain and the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Division finals.

Russell led the Celtics back to titles in 1968 and 69, each winning a seven-game playoff series against Chamberlain. Russell retired after the ’69 final, returning with a relatively successful – but unsuccessful – four-year stint as coach and GM of the Seattle SuperSonics and an underperforming half-season as a coach. Sacramento Kings coach.

Russell’s number 6 shirt was retired by the Celtics in 1972. He earned a spot on the NBA all-time 25th anniversary team in 1970, the 35th anniversary team in 1980 and the 75th anniversary team. In 1996, he was hailed as one of the 50 Greatest NBA Players. In 2009, the NBA Finals MVP was named in his honor.

In 2013, a statue was unveiled on City Hall Square in Boston of Russell surrounded by granite blocks with quotes about leadership and character. Russell was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975 but did not attend the ceremony, saying he should not have been the first African-American to be elected. (Chuck Cooper, the NBA’s first black player, was his pick.)

In 2019, Russell received his Hall of Fame ring during a private gathering. “I feel others before me should have had that honor,” he tweeted. “It’s good to see the progress.”

“I cherish my friendship with Bill and am deeply moved when he receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom,” Silver said in his statement. “I often call him the Babe Ruth of basketball because of how timeless he is. Bill was an ultimate winner and a great teammate, and his influence on the NBA will be felt forever. We extend our deepest condolences to his wife, Jeannine, his family and many of his friends.”

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

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