11-time NBA champion Bill Russell dies at 88

Monday, 1 August 2022 (14:10 IST)
Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell, who won 11 NBA titles and was a powerful voice for social justice, died Sunday at 88, his family said.

"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," the family said.

A Hall of Famer, five-time Most Valuable Player, and 12-time All-Star, Russell was voted the greatest player in the NBA history by basketball writers in 1980.

Russell was the centerpiece of a Celtics dynasty that won 11 championships in his just 13 seasons as a professional player. In recognition of his dominance, the NBA named its Finals MVP award in his honor.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver called Russell "the greatest champion in all of team sports."

Russell averaged 15.1 points and 22.5 rebounds over 13 seasons (1956-69) with the Celtics.

"Bill Russell's DNA is woven through every element of the Celtics organization, from the relentless pursuit of excellence to the celebration of team rewards over individual glory, to a commitment to social justice and civil rights off the court," the Celtics said in a statement.

Russell's No. 6 jersey was retired by the team in 1972

NBA icon who marched with Dr. King 

Russell was the first Black head coach in the NBA and the first Black player inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975.

US President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama, who awarded Russell the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011, were among those who paid tribute to him.

"Bill Russell is one of the greatest athletes in our history — an all-time champion of champions, and a good man and great American who did everything he could to deliver the promise of America for all Americans," Biden said in a statement.

"Today, we lost a giant," Obama said. "As tall as Bill Russell stood, his legacy rises far higher — both as a player and as a person. Perhaps more than anyone else, Bill knew what it took to win and what it took to lead."

Russell was at the March on Washington in 1963, when Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech, and he backed Muhammad Ali when the boxer was criticized for refusing induction into the military draft.

Michael Jordan, who inherited the mantle of greatest ever NBA player from Russell, said he, "paved the way and set an example for every Black player who came into the league after him, including me."

"He was one of the first athletes on the front line fighting for social justice, equity, equality, and civil rights. That's why I admired and loved him so much. Over the course of our friendship, he always reminded me about making things better in the Black community," Los Angeles Lakers icon Magic Johnson said.

In 2013, a statue was unveiled on Boston's City Hall Plaza of Russell surrounded by blocks of granite with quotes on leadership and character.

"Bill Russell gave so much to the city of Boston — as the greatest sports champion of all time & a role model fighting for justice, equality & labor rights. We owe him a debt of gratitude & we will miss him," Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said.

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