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Bill Russell Dies at Age 88; Hall of Famer Won 11 NBA Titles with Celtics

AP Photo/Jack Plunkett, File

NBA legend Bill Russell died Sunday, in accordance with his family. He was 88.

TheBillRussell @RealBillRussell

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Russell had health scares previously, collapsing at a speaking engagement in 2014 and having to be hospitalized in-may 2018 for dehydration. In both instances, however, he recovered quickly.

In his NBA career, Russell was peerless when it found winning titles. He won 11 in his 13 professional seasons (1956-69) with the Boston Celtics, that is probably the most in NBA history among players. He also made 12 trips to the All-Star Game, won five MVP awards and was twice named a first-team All-NBA selection. In 1975, he was inducted in to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

He averaged 15.1 points and 22.5 rebounds per game during the period of his career, solidifying himself among the most dominant centers ever. In 1996, Russell was voted among the 50 greatest players in NBA history.

During his era, Russell and Wilt Chamberlain battled for supremacy on the inside. Chamberlain was statistically superior (30.1 PPG, 22.9 RPG in his career) and arguably more dominant on a person basis.

“People say it had been the best individual rivalry they’ve ever seen,” Russell said in the 1990s, per basketball writer Bob Ryan. “I trust that. I must laugh today. I’ll start it and start to see the Knicks play the Lakers, and half enough time Patrick [Ewing] isn’t even guarding Shaq [O’Neal], and vice-versa. I want to assure you that when either Wilt’s or Russ’ coach had ever told one of these he couldn’t guard another guy, he’d have lost that player forever!”

Even face to face, Chamberlain was productive, averaging an unbelievable 28.7 points and 28.7 rebounds per game in his matchups against Russell. The Celtics legend, meanwhile, averaged 14.5 points and 23.7 rebounds per game in those duels, but Russell often had the final laugh, winning nine more titles than Chamberlain and holding an 85-57 record in the head-to-head matchups.

Needless to say, Russell had a lot of help on the way. During his NBA career with the Boston Celtics, he was paired with a slew of Hall of Famers, including head coach Red Auerbach and players Bob Cousy, John Havlicek, Tom Heinsohn, K.C. Jones, Sam Jones, Bill Sharman, Clyde Lovellette, Frank Ramsey, Tom Sanders, Arnie Risen, Bailey Howell and Andy Phillip.

Russell then took over because the team’s head coach in the 1966-67 season and served as a player-coach for three seasons, winning two of his titles for the reason that split role. He was the initial Blackhead coach in NBA history and the initial Black coach of any UNITED STATES professional sports team.

After retiring from playing, Russell served because the head coach of the Seattle Supersonics (1973-77) and the Sacramento Kings (1987-88), achieving the playoffs twice with the Sonics. He never really had exactly the same success as a coach he enjoyed in his playing career with the Celtics, however.

He also served as a basketball broadcaster for a while, doing work for both ABC and CBS Sports through the ’70s and ’80s, though he was never completely comfortable in the role.

“Probably the most successful television is performed in eight-second thoughts, and the items I understand about basketball, motivation and folks go deeper than that,” he told the Sacramento Bee.

But Russell also made an enormous impact off the court as a civil rights activist, often facing racism from fans and establishments as did other Black players of that time period. In 2011, President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, highlighting the historical precedent Russell set by breaking the coaching color barrier among his a great many other achievements.

“Bill has always had the consciousness and intellect to comprehend what freedom and equality and justice designed for everyone,” NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown said of Russell in 2013, per John Hareas of “He’s always represented everyone, not by color or race or gender or not by the rights of individuals.”

“Bill Russell is really a difference-maker,” fellow Hall of Famer Bob Lanier added. “He, Brown, Arthur Ashe were the people throughout that era who have been celebrities and used their celebrity to the best good to attempt to define equality among mankind. These were quite definitely leaders for the reason that.”

Russell will undoubtedly be remembered among the greatest Celtics ever, one of the biggest NBA players ever and one of the very most successful athletes in U.S. history. But he’ll also be remembered as an integral figure in American history and the civil rights movement, transcending sport.

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