Bill Russell, the NBA star who Boston Celtics Dynasty to 11 championship titles in 13 years, the last two as the first black coach in a major American sport, died Sunday at age 88.
The news was posted on social media by his family members stating that the NBA star died with his wife, Jeannine, by his side. The cause of death was not stated in the statement.
“Bill’s wife, Jeannine, and his many friends and family thank you for keeping Bill in your prayers. You may relive one or two of the golden moments he gave us, or remember his signature laugh when he was excited to explain the real story behind how those moments were,” the family statement said.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement that Russell was “the greatest champion in all team sports.”
“And we hope each of us can find a new way to act or speak with Bill’s uncompromising, dignified and always constructive commitment to the principle. That would be a final and lasting win for our beloved #6,” said Mr. Silver.
He added: “Bill stood for something much bigger than sport: the values of equality, respect and inclusion that he instilled into the DNA of our league. At the height of his athletic career, Bill vigorously advocated civil rights and social justice, a legacy he passed on to generations of NBA players who followed in his footsteps.”
A Hall of Famer, five-time Most Valuable Player, and twelve-time All-Star, Bill Russell was named the greatest player in NBA history by basketball writers in 1980. He remains one of the most prolific winners as a player and an archetype of selflessness who won with defense and rebound while leaving the scoring to others.
The NBA legend has also left a lasting impression as a black athlete in a country where racing is often a flashpoint. He received the “Medal of Freedom” from Barrack Obama in 2011, 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 people. He marched with King; he was with Ali. When a restaurant refused to serve the Black Celtics, he declined to play in the scheduled game. He endured insults and vandalism, but he remained focused on making the teammates he loved better players and enabled the success of so many to follow,” Obama said at the ceremony.
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. He averaged more than 20 rebounds in his 10 seasons for ‘The Celtics’.
Russell became the player-coach after Auerbach retired in 1966. He was Black’s first head coach in NBA history, and nearly a decade before Frank Robinson took over from baseball for the Cleveland Indians.
A statue of Bill Russell was unveiled in Boston’s City Hall Plaza of Russell, surrounded by granite blocks with quotes about leadership and character in 2013. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975, but declined to attend the ceremony because he said that he should. It was the first African American to be elected. The NBA’s first black player, Chuck Cooper, was his choice.
Russell did not accept his Hall of Fame ring until 2019 at a private meeting. He said, “I felt that others before me should have been given that credit, but it’s good to see progress.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said, “Bill was the ultimate winner and consummate teammate, and his influence on the NBA will be felt forever.” He added: “We extend our deepest condolences to his wife, Jeannine, his family and his many friends.”
Relatives of Russell said arrangements for Russell’s memorial service will be announced in the coming days.
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