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Bill Russell, 11-time NBA champion, Boston Celtics legend and all-time defensive great, dies

Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell, who towered over pro basketball through the entire turbulent 1960s and stood tall contrary to the eras virulent racism, died Sunday, in accordance with a statement posted to his verified Twitter page.

Russell was 88.

Russell’s wife, Jeannine, was by his side during his death, the statement said. His family thanked fans for “keeping Bill in your prayers.”

“Perhaps you’ll relive a couple of of the golden moments he gave us, or recall his trademark laugh as he delighted in explaining the true story behind how those moments unfolded,” the statement said. “And hopefully all of us will get a new solution to act or speak up in Bill’s uncompromising, dignified, and always constructive commitment to principle.”

Russell led the Celtics to 11 NBA titles, two as player-coach, in a victory-filled rsumregarded as among pro sports most insurmountable records.

He could be rivaled byHenri Pocket Rocket Richard,who hoisted the Stanley Cup 11 times with the Montreal Canadiens, andYogi Berra, an associate of 10 World Series-winning NY Yankees teams.

No modern players hold a candle to Russells accomplishments. The award for probably the most valuable player of theNBA Finals is known as after him.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called Russell the “greatest champion in every of team sports” in a tribute recounting the player’s career. Silver said he cherished his personal friendship with Russell and will be offering condolences.

“Bill stood for something much larger than sports: the values of equality, respect and inclusion he stamped in to the DNA of our league,” Silver said. “At the height of his athletic career, Bill advocated vigorously for civil rights and social justice, a legacy he passed on to generations of NBA players who followed in his footsteps.

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith tweeted a tribute to Russell Sunday, saying that the guts made the planet “better for all of us all.”

“My deepest condolences to the household, family members and the @NBA community on the increased loss of the best champion weve ever known: BILL RUSSELL,” Smith wrote. “An activist, a pioneer, a humanitarian.”

Retired player “Magic” Johnson, whose legal name is Earvin Johnson Jr., called Russell his idol.

“I looked around him on the court and off,” Johnson said. “His success on the court was undeniable; he was dominate and great, winning 11 NBA championships. Off the court, Bill Russell paved just how for guys like me.”

Russell, a 6-foot-10 center, also won the NBA regular season MVP award five times while averaging 15.1 points, 22.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists a casino game throughout his 13-season career.

Russells numbers werent as flashy as those of contemporary big man Wilt Chamberlain, who’s the only real pro basketball player ever toscore 100 points in a casino gameand retired with a scoring average of 30.07 points, second and then Michael Jordans 30.12.

Bill Russell #6 of the Boston Celtics rebounds against Walt Bellamy #8 of the New York Knicks during a game in1967 at the Boston Garden.
Bill Russell #6 of the Boston Celtics rebounds against Walt Bellamy #8 of the brand new York Knicks throughout a game in1967 at the Boston Garden.Dick Raphael / NBAE via Getty Images file

But Russell is basically credited with writing the book on modern defense for centers. He perfected the art of blocking shots, swatting away would-be scorers with brutal efficiency without fouling even though keeping the ball in play, so one of is own teammates could gain possession.

The NBA didnt recognize the blocked shot until 1973-74, so Russells prowess here’s largely lost to history.

What has been fully chronicled is Russells will to win, as he led Boston to NBA titles in 1957, 1959 and each year of the 1960s, aside from 1967.

Bill Russell grins at announcement that he had been named coach of the Boston Celtics on April 18, 1966.
Bill Russell grins at announcement he have been named coach of the Boston Celtics on April 18, 1966.AP file

Legendary Celtics coach Red Auerbach retired in 1966 and turned the keys to Russell, who led Boston to two more titles as player-coach.

He waspro basketballs first Blackhead coach, no small feat at that time in racially divided Boston.

Russells pro basketball career stretched over an especially fraught amount of time in civil rights history. He never backed right down to challenging.

Once the Celtics were set to play an exhibition game contrary to the St. Louis Hawks in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1961, he and Black teammates were refused service at a restaurant. In protest, Russell and his teammates left town without playing.

He refused to sign autographs, fearing that doing this would show acquiescence to the eras white establishment since it largely kept African Americans from advancing in fields in a roundabout way linked with baskets, touchdowns and home runs.

President Barack Obama reaches up to present a 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom to basketball hall of fame member and former Boston Celtics coach and captain Bill Russell on Feb. 15, 2011, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House.
President Barack Obama reaches around present a 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom to basketball hall of fame member and former Boston Celtics coach and captain Bill Russell on Feb. 15, 2011, throughout a ceremony in the East Room of the White House.Charles Dharapak / AP file

I recall onetime, this businessman asked for an autograph, longtime Golden State Warriors broadcaster and onetime Celtics playerJim Barnett recalled admiringly of Russell. He said, EASILY werent Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics, Id be yet another N-word to him.

Russell found the support of Muhammad Ali when Ali refused to serve in the Vietnam War. Russell and UCLA basketball star Lew Alcindor, who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,visited Cleveland in 1967 for a summit, organized byJim Brown, showing support for Ali.

Even while he brought Boston titles, Russell endured the eras ugly racial resentment.

In 1963, vandals broke into his home in Reading, Massachusetts, scrawled racist epithets on the walls and defecated in his bed.

Russ was the best angry Black man, teammate and fellow Celtics legendBob Cousy told WBUR in a 2018interview. And I didnt blame him then, and I blame him even less now.

While Russell has spoken fondly of Cousy, the idea guard said he’s got long regretted devoid of done more to comfort his teammate during those years.

Bill Russell of San Francisco and the Olympic basketball team wears a Boston Celtics uniform for his first workout with the NBA team shortly after having signed a contract in Boston on Dec. 19, 1956.
Bill Russell of SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA and the Olympic basketball team wears a Boston Celtics uniform for his first workout with the NBA team soon after having signed a contract in Boston on Dec. 19, 1956.AP file

Lets go have a beer, lets visit the movie together, whatever, or socialize outside the unit, said Cousy, a roommate ofChuck Cooper, the initial Black manever drafted by an NBA team.

I was the senior member. I had an excellent relationship with the media. I usually have. THEREFORE I may have reached out as well as perhaps shared his pain a bit with him, you understand? I never did that with Russ.

Russell was honoredwith thePresidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

Bill Russell, the person, is somebody who stood up for the rights and dignity of most men. He marched with King; he stood by Ali, President Barack Obama said.

He endured insults and vandalism, but he continued concentrating on making the teammates who he loved better players and permitted the success of so many who follow. And I am hoping that certain day, in the streets of Boston,children can look up at a statue builtnot merely to Bill Russell the ball player, but Bill Russell the person.

CSPAN tweeted the clip of Obama presenting the medal to Russell on Sunday.

In 2020, Russell wore the medal in an image he posted on social media marketing, going for a knee and ripping President Donald Trump for criticizing athletes protests for racial justice.

He called Trump divisive and a coward five months before votersturned Trump out of office.

William Felton Russell was created Feb. 12, 1934, in Monroe, Louisiana, before his family moved west, settling in Oakland, California.

He was a basketball player at McClymonds SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL, dominating the hardwood alongside teammate andfuture baseball Hall of Fame member Frank Robinson.

The Boston's Celtic's Bill Russell goes in high to score as St. Louis Hawk's Zelmo Beaty tries to block in 1963.
The Boston’s Celtic’s Bill Russell goes into high to score as St. Louis Hawk’s Zelmo Beaty tries to block in 1963.Bettmann Archive via Getty Images file

Russell went across SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA Bay for college, collaborating with future Celtics teammate and coach K.C. Jones in leading the University of SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA to NCAA titles in 1955 and 1956, with the Dons going 57-1in those final two seasons.

He and Jones led Team USA to gold at the 1956 Summer Olympicsin Melbourne, Australia.

Even six decades later, Russell was still having a direct effect on the sports in his old backyard.

The West Coast Conference, which include USF,in 2020 instituted the Russell Rule,requiring schools to take into account an associate of a traditionally underrepresented community in the pool of final candidates for coaching and top administrative posts.

Russell was married four times, to Rose Swisher, 1968 Miss USA Dorothy Didi Anstett, Marilyn Nault and Jeannine Russell.

Naultdied in 2009, and Swisher died in 2014.

Russell and Swisher had three children,daughter Karenand sons William Jr. and Jacob.William Felton Russell Jr. was 58when he died from cancer in 2016.

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