Bill Russell, the NBA great who anchored a Boston Celtics dynasty that won 11 championships in 13 years, died Sunday. He was 88.

BOSTON (AP) — Bill Russell redefined how basketball is performed, after which he modified the approach sports activities are considered in a racially divided nation.

The most prolific winner in NBA historical past, Russell marched with Martin Luther King Jr., supported Muhammad Ali and obtained the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. The centerpiece of the Boston Celtics dynasty that won 11 championships in 13 years, Russell earned his final two NBA titles as a player-coach — the first Black coach in any main US sport.

Russell died on Sunday at the age of 88. His household posted the information on social media, saying his spouse, Jeannine, was by his aspect. The assertion didn’t give the reason for dying, however Russell was not nicely sufficient to current the NBA Finals MVP trophy in June resulting from a lengthy sickness.

“Bill’s spouse, Jeannine, and his many family and friends thanks for conserving Bill in your prayers. Perhaps you will relive one or two of the golden moments he gave us, or recall his trademark chortle as he delighted in explaining the actual story behind how these moments unfolded,” the household assertion stated. “And we hope every of us can discover a new technique to act or converse up with Bill’s uncompromising, dignified and at all times constructive dedication to precept.

“That could be one final, and lasting, win for our beloved #6.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver stated in a assertion that Russell was “the biggest champion in all of staff sports activities.”

“Bill stood for one thing a lot larger than sports activities: the values ​​of equality, respect and inclusion that he stamped into the DNA of our league. At the top of his athletic profession, Bill advocated vigorously for civil rights and social justice, a legacy he handed right down to generations of NBA gamers who adopted in his footsteps,” Silver stated. “Through the taunts, threats and unthinkable adversity, Bill rose above all of it and remained true to his perception that everybody deserves to be handled with dignity.”

A Hall of Famer, five-time Most Valuable Player and 12-time All-Star, Russell in 1980 was voted the biggest participant in NBA historical past by basketball writers. He stays the sport’s most embellished champion — he additionally won two school titles and an Olympic gold medal — and an archetype of selflessness who won with protection and rebounding whereas others racked up gaudy scoring totals.

Often, that meant Wilt Chamberlain, the solely worthy rival of Russell’s period and his prime competitors for rebounds, MVP trophies and barroom arguments about who was higher. Chamberlain, who died in 1999 at 63, had twice as many factors, 4 MVP trophies of his personal and is the solely individual in league historical past to seize extra rebounds than Russell — 23,924 to 21,620.

But Russell dominated in the solely statistic he cared about: 11 championships to 2.

The native of Louisiana additionally left a lasting mark as a Black athlete in a metropolis — and nation — the place race is commonly a flash level. He was at the March on Washington in 1963, when King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, and he backed Muhammad Ali when the boxer was pilloried for refusing induction into the army draft.

“To be the biggest champion in your sport, to revolutionize the approach the sport is performed, and to be a societal chief abruptly appears unthinkable, however that is who Bill Russell was,” the Boston Celtics stated in a assertion.

In 2011, Obama awarded Russell the Medal of Freedom alongside (*11*) John Lewis, billionaire investor Warren Buffett, then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel and baseball great Stan Musial.

“Bill Russell, the man, is somebody who stood up for the rights and dignity of all males,” Obama stated at the ceremony. “He marched with the King; he stood by Ali. When a restaurant refused to serve the Black Celtics, he refused to play in the scheduled sport. He endured insults and vandalism, however he saved on specializing in making the teammates he beloved higher gamers and made doable the success of so many who would comply with.”

Russell stated that when he was rising up in the segregated South and later (*13*) his mother and father instilled in him the calm confidence that allowed him to brush off racist taunts.

“Years later, folks requested me what I needed to undergo,” Russell stated in 2008. “Unfortunately, or fortuitously, I’ve by no means been by way of something. From my first second of being alive was the notion that my mom and father beloved me.” It was Russell’s mom who would inform him to ignore feedback from these who would possibly see him taking part in in the yard.

“Whatever they are saying, good or dangerous, they do not know you,” he recalled her saying. “They’re wrestling with their very own demons.”

But it was Jackie Robinson who gave Russell a street map for coping with racism in his sport: “Jackie was a hero to us. He at all times performed himself as a man. He confirmed me the technique to be a man in skilled sports activities.”

The feeling was mutual, Russell realized, when Robinson’s widow, Rachel, known as and requested him to be a pallbearer at her husband’s funeral in 1972.

“She hung up the telephone and I requested myself, ‘How do you get to be a hero to Jackie Robinson?'” Russell stated. “I was so flattered.”

William Felton Russell was born on Feb. 12, 1934, in Monroe, Louisiana. He was a little one when his household moved to the West Coast, and he went to highschool in Oakland, (*13*), after which 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 basic supervisor Red Auerbach so coveted Russell that he labored out a commerce with the St. Louis Hawks for the second decide in the draft. He promised the Rochester Royals, who owned the No. 1 decide, a profitable go to by the Ice Capades, which had been additionally run by Celtics proprietor Walter Brown.

Still, Russell arrived in Boston to complain that he wasn’t that good. “People stated it was a wasted draft selection, wasted cash,” he recalled. “They stated, ‘He’s no good. All he can do is block pictures and rebound.’ And Red stated, ‘That’s sufficient.'”

The Celtics additionally picked up Tommy Heinsohn and KC Jones, Russell’s school teammate, in the identical draft. Although Russell joined the staff late as a result of he was main the US to the Olympic gold, Boston completed the common season with the league’s finest document.

The Celtics won the NBA championship — their first of 17 — in a double-overtime seventh sport towards Bob Pettit’s St. Louis Hawks. Russell won his first MVP award the following season, however the Hawks won the title in a finals rematch. The Celtics won all of it once more in 1959, beginning an unprecedented string of eight consecutive NBA crowns.

A 6-foot-10 middle, Russell by no means averaged greater than 18.9 factors throughout his 13 seasons, annually averaging extra rebounds per sport than factors. For 10 seasons he averaged greater than 20 rebounds. He as soon as had 51 rebounds in a sport; Chamberlain holds the document with 55.

Auerbach retired after profitable the 1966 title, and Russell turned the player-coach — the first Black head coach in NBA historical past, and virtually a decade earlier than Frank Robinson took over baseball’s Cleveland Indians. Boston completed with the second-best regular-season document in the NBA, and its title streak ended with a loss to Chamberlain and the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Division finals.

Russell led the Celtics again to titles in 1968 and ’69, every time profitable a seven-game playoff collection towards Chamberlain. Russell retired after the ’69 finals, returning for a comparatively profitable — however unfulfilling — four-year stint as coach and GM of the Seattle SuperSonics and a much less fruitful half season as coach of the Sacramento Kings.

Russell’s No. 6 jersey was retired by the Celtics in 1972. He earned spots on the NBA’s twenty fifth anniversary all-time staff in 1970, thirty fifth anniversary staff in 1980 and seventy fifth anniversary staff. In 1996, he was hailed as one in every of the NBA’s 50 biggest gamers.

In 2009, the MVP trophy of the NBA Finals was named in his honor — despite the fact that Russell by no means won himself, as a result of it wasn’t awarded for the first time till 1969. Russell, nevertheless, historically introduced the trophy for a few years, the final time in 2019 to Kawhi Leonard; Russell was not there in 2020 due to the NBA bubble nor in 2021 resulting from COVID-19 considerations.

In 2013, a statue was unveiled on Boston’s City Hall Plaza of Russell surrounded by blocks of granite with quotes on management and character. Russell was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975 however didn’t attend the ceremony, saying he mustn’t have been the first African American elected. (Chuck Cooper, the NBA’s first Black participant, was his selection.)

In 2019, Russell accepted his Hall of Fame ring in a non-public gathering.

“I felt others earlier than me ought to have had that honor,” he tweeted. “Good to see progress.”

Silver stated he “usually known as (Russell) basketball’s Babe Ruth for a way he transcended time.”

“Bill was the final winner and consummate teammate, and his affect on the NBA can be felt perpetually,” Silver added. “We ship our deepest condolences to his spouse, Jeannine, his household and his many pals.”

Russell’s household stated preparations for the memorial service can be introduced in the coming days.


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