boston (ap): bill russell, the great nba player who anchored a boston celtics dynasty that won 11 championships in 13 years, the last two as the first black head coach at any major in the United States. sport — and marched for civil rights with martin luther king jr., died Sunday. he was 88 years old.
His family posted the news on social media, saying that Russell died with his wife, Jeannine, by his side. the statement did not give a cause of death.
“bill’s wife, jeannine, and his many friends and family, thank you for keeping bill in your prayers. maybe relive one or two of the golden moments he gave us, or remember his trademark laugh as she delighted in explaining the true story behind how those moments unfolded,” the family statement reads. “and we hope that each of us can find a new way to act or speak with bill’s uncompromising, dignified and always constructive commitment to principle. that would be one last and lasting victory for our beloved #6.”
an announcement… pic.twitter.com/kmj7pg4r5z
— thebillrussell (@realbillrussell) July 31, 2022
nba commissioner adam silver said in a statement that russell was “the greatest champion in all of team sports.”
statement of the commissioner of the nba, adam silver, on the approval of bill russell. pic.twitter.com/3bczdnkjxk
— nba (@nba) July 31, 2022
“bill represented something much bigger than sports: the values of equality, respect and inclusion that he imprinted in the DNA of our league. At the height of his athletic career, Bill vigorously 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 teasing, threats, and unthinkable adversity, bill overcame it all and stayed true to his belief that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity.
A Hall of Famer, five-time Most Valuable Player and 12-time All-Star, Russell was voted the greatest player in NBA history in 1980 by basketball writers. he remains the sport’s most prolific winner as a player and an archetype of selflessness who won with defense and rebounding while leaving the scoring to others. Often that meant Wilt Chamberlain, the only player at the time who was a worthy match for Russell.
but russell dominated in the only stat he cared about: 11 championships to two.
The louisiana native also left a lasting mark as a black athlete in a city – and a country – where race is often a flashpoint. He was at the March on Washington in 1963, when King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, and endorsed Muhammad Ali when the boxer was ridiculed for refusing admission to conscription.
“Being the greatest champion in your sport, revolutionizing the way the game is played and being a social leader at the same time seems unthinkable, but that’s what Bill Russell was,” the Boston Celtics said in a statement. .
Being the greatest champion of your sport, revolutionizing the way the game is played, and being a social leader at the same time seems unthinkable, but that’s what Bill Russell was. (1/4) pic.twitter.com/k0ue0hkils
– boston celtics (@celtics) July 31, 2022
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 musial.
“bill russell, the man, is someone who stood up for the rights and dignity of all men,” obama said at the ceremony. “He went with the king; he was with Ali. when a restaurant refused to serve the Black Celts, he refused to play in the scheduled game. he endured insults and hooliganism, but continued to focus on making the teammates he loved better players and made possible the success of so many who would follow him.”
Following news of his death, many NBA stars reflected on Russell’s impact and legacy. Michael Jordan described Russell as “a trailblazer, 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 all the black players who came into the league after him, including me. The world has lost a legend. My condolences to his family and may he rest in peace. ”
Russell said growing up in the segregated South and later California, his parents instilled in him the quiet confidence that allowed him to ignore racist taunts.
“Years later, people would ask me what I had to go through,” Russell said in 2008. “Unfortunately, or fortunately, I’ve never been through anything. from my first moment of being alive was the notion that my mother and father loved me.” it was russell’s mother who told her to ignore the comments of those who could see him playing in the yard.
“No matter what they say, good or bad, they don’t know you,” she recalled him saying. “They are fighting their own demons.”
but it was jackie robinson who gave russell a road map 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 be a man in professional sports.”
Russell learned the feeling was mutual when Robinson’s widow, Rachel, called him and asked him to be the pallbearer at her husband’s funeral in 1972.
“He hung up the phone and I was like, ‘how do you get to be a hero to jackie robinson?'” russell said. “I was so flattered.”
william felton russell was born on feb. December 12, 1934, in Monroe, Louisiana. he was a boy when his family moved to the west coast, and he went to high school in oakland, california, and then to 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 Red Auerbach coveted Russell so much that he made a trade with the St. louis hawks for the second pick in the draft. he promised it to rochester royalty, who owned no. 1 pick, a lucrative tour of the ice caps, which was also led by Celtics owner Walter Brown.
still, russell came to boston with complaints that he wasn’t that good. “People said it was a wasted draft pick, wasted money,” he recalled. “They said, ‘It’s not good. all he can do is block shots and block rebounds.’ and red said: ‘enough is enough’.”
the celts also chose tommy heinsohn and k.c. Jones, Russell’s college teammate, in the same draft. although russell joined the team late because he ran the u.s. to Olympic gold, Boston finished the regular season with the best record in the league.
The Celtics won the NBA Championship, their first of 17, in a double-overtime Game 7 against the St. by bob pettit. louis hawks. Russell won his first MVP award the next season, but the Falcons won the title in a final rematch. The Celtics won it all again in 1959, starting an unprecedented streak of eight consecutive NBA crowns.
A 6-foot-10 center, Russell never averaged more than 18.9 points during his 13 seasons, each year averaging more rebounds per game than points. during 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 title, and russell became the player-coach: the first black head coach in nba history, and nearly a decade before frank robinson took over the cleveland indians in baseball. Boston ended with the second-best regular season record in the NBA, and his title streak ended with a loss to Chamberlain and the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Division finals.
Russell guided the Celtics back to titles in 1968 and 1969, each time winning a seven-game playoff series against Chamberlain. Russell retired after the 1969 Finals and returned for a relatively successful but unsatisfying four-year stint as coach and general manager of the Seattle Supersonics and a less fruitful half-season as coach of the Sacramento Kings.
number Russell’s 6 was retired by the Celtics in 1972. He earned spots on the NBA’s 25th Anniversary All-Time Team in 1970, the 35th Anniversary Team in 1980, and the 75th Anniversary Team. In 1996, he was hailed as one of the 50 best players in the NBA.
in 2009, the nba finals mvp trophy was named in his honor, although russell never won it himself, because it was not first awarded until 1969. russell, however, traditionally awarded the trophy for many years. years, the last time in 2019 to kawhi leonard; russell was not there in 2020 due to the nba bubble nor in 2021 due to covid-19 concerns.
In 2013, a statue was unveiled in Boston City Hall’s Russell Square surrounded by granite blocks bearing 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 elected. (Chuck Cooper, the NBA’s first black player, was his choice.)
in 2019, russell accepted his hall of fame ring in a private meeting. “I felt like others before me should have had that honor,” she tweeted. “good to see progress.”
silver said he “often called (russell) the basketball babe ruth because of how she transcended time.”
“bill was the ultimate winner and a consummate teammate, and his influence on the nba will be felt forever,” added silver. “We send our deepest condolences to his wife, Jeannine, his family and his many friends.”
his family said arrangements for russell’s funeral will be announced in the next few days.