Bill Russell, basketball legend, dead at 88

Source: Boston Globe/Getty

Bill Russell, one of the most iconic figures in American history and the greatest winner in North American team sports, died peacefully on Sunday July 31. He was 88 years old.

Russell’s wife was at his side when he passed away, and funeral arrangements will be announced soon.

Born in Monroe, Louisiana in 1934, Russell is said to have one of the most decorated careers in sports. He won two state championships in high school before attending the University of San Francisco, where he won two NCAA titles in 1955 and 1956. Drafted No. 2 overall by the Boston Celtics, Russell would go on to win a record 11 NBA titles and later became the first black head coach of a major North American sports team and the first black coach to win an NBA title.

Russell’s legacy on the court led the NBA to rename the NBA Finals MVP Trophy as the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP Trophy in 2009, but his greatest impact came off the court. As a civil rights champion, Russell organized a famous boycott with his Black Celtics teammates of a 1961 exhibition game in Kentucky due to racist treatment by a local restaurant. He also declined to attend his jersey retirement at the Boston Garden in 1972 and declined to attend his Hall of Fame induction in 1975 due to his devoted vitriol towards racist Boston fans.

In 2010, Russell received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. The honor, the highest given to a civilian in the United States, is awarded to a person who has demonstrated “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, culture or other important public or private endeavours”.

“Bill Russell, perhaps more than anyone, knows what it takes to win and what it takes to lead,” Obama said in a prepared statement for Russell’s second Hall of Fame induction in 2021. “That has always been true off the pitch as well. As I mentioned when I presented him with the Medal of Freedom, he is a man who walked with Dr King and stood alongside Muhammad Ali He endured insults and vandalism but never stopped standing up for what was right.

“When a cafe in Lexington, Ky., wouldn’t serve black players, Bill joined his teammates in boycotting the game in their town. An act of civil disobedience that still resonates to this day. That’s why I couldn’t be more honored to celebrate Bill Russell for the way he played, the way he coached, the way he led, the way he lives his life. Because as great as Bill Russell is, his example and his legacy go way, way higher.

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