Bill Russell, the most prolific winner in the history of American sports, died Sunday. The centerpiece of the Boston Celtics dynasty who earned 11 NBA titles during his career was 88.
The Hall of Famer died peacefully with his wife, Jeannine, at his side, according to a statement posted on social media. Arrangements for his memorial service will be announced soon.
Russell was a five-time NBA MVP, and tied with the NHL’s Henri Richard for the most titles in a North American sports league. Russell was renowned and respected as much for his activism as for his serial winning, awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2011, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
“But for all the winning, Bill’s understanding of the struggle is what illuminated his life,” the statement read. “From boycotting a 1961 exhibition game to unmask too-long-tolerated discrimination, to leading Mississippi’s first integrated basketball camp in the combustible wake of Medgar [Evers’] assassination, to decades of activism ultimately recognized by his receipt of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in . Bill called out injustice with an unforgiving candor that he intended would disrupt the status quo, and with a powerful example that, though never his humble intention, will forever inspire teamwork, selflessness and thoughtful change.
“Bill’s wife, Jeannine, and his many friends and family thank you for keeping Bill in your prayers. Perhaps you’ll relive one or two of the golden moments he gave us, or recall his trademark laugh as he delighted in explaining the real story behind how those moments unfolded. And we hope each of us can find a new way to act or speak up with Bill’s uncompromising, dignified and always constructive commitment to principle. That would be one last, and lasting, win for our beloved #6.”
In college, Russell carried the University of San Francisco to back-to-back NCAA championships and 55 straight wins, along with earning 1956 Melbourne Olympic gold. He was so dominant as a 6-foot-9 center that he changed the game, with the NCAA widening the lane his junior year, and then prohibiting basket interference after his graduation.
In Boston, he led the Celtics to a dozen NBA Finals starting as a rookie in 1956-57, winning 11. His shot-blocking and defensive prowess revolutionized the NBA the way it had college basketball, and gave him the upper hand in his rivalry with contemporary Wilt Chamberlain.
“Bill Russell was the greatest champion in all of team sports,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “The countless accolades that he earned for his storied career with the Boston Celtics — including a record 11 championships and five MVP awards — only begin to tell the story of Bill’s immense impact on our league and broader society.
“Bill stood for something much bigger than sports: the values of equality, respect and inclusion that he stamped into the DNA of our league. At the height of his athletic career, Bill advocated vigorously for civil rights and social justice, a legacy he passed down to generations of NBA players who followed in his footsteps. Through the taunts, threats and unthinkable adversity, Bill rose above it all and remained true to his belief that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity.
“For nearly 35 years since Bill completed his trailblazing career as the league’s first Black head coach, we were fortunate to see him at every major NBA event, including the NBA Finals, where he presented the Bill Russell Trophy to the Finals MVP.
Read the full story here.
Scroll down to leave a comment and share your thoughts.