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Bill Russell, NBA great and Celtics legend, dies at 88

BOSTON (AP) Bill Russell, the NBA great who anchored a Boston Celtics dynasty that won 11 championships in 13 years the final two because the first Blackhead coach in virtually any major U.S. sport and marched for civil rights with Martin Luther King Jr., died Sunday. He was 88.

His family posted the news headlines on social media marketing, saying Russell died along with his wife, Jeannine, by his side. The statement didn’t give the reason behind death, but Russell had not been well enough to provide the NBA Finals MVP trophy in June because of long illness.

Bills wife, Jeannine, and his many family and friends many thanks for keeping Bill in your prayers. Perhaps youll 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 household statement said. And hopefully all of us will get a new solution to act or speak up with Bills uncompromising, dignified and always constructive commitment to principle. That might be one last, and lasting, win for the beloved #6.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement that Russell was the best champion in every of team sports.

Bill stood for something much larger than sports: the values of equality, respect and inclusion he stamped in to 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 on to generations of NBA players who followed in his footsteps, Silver said. Through the taunts, threats and unthinkable adversity, Bill rose above everything and remained true to his belief that everyone has a right to be treated with dignity.

A Hall of Famer, five-time MOST EFFECTIVE Player and 12-time All-Star, Russell in 1980 was voted the best player in the NBA history by basketball writers. He remains the sports most prolific winner as a new player and an archetype of selflessness who won with defense and rebounding while leaving the scoring to others. Often, that meant Wilt Chamberlain, the only real player of the era who was simply a worthy rival for Russell.

But Russell dominated in the only real stat he cared about: 11 championships to two.

The native of Louisiana also left a lasting mark as a Black athlete in a city and country where race is usually a flash point. He was at the March on Washington in 1963, when King gave his I’VE a Dream speech, and he backed Muhammad Ali once the boxer was pilloried for refusing induction in to the military draft.

To function as greatest champion in your sport, to revolutionize what sort of game is played, also to be considered a societal leader all at one time seems unthinkable, but that’s who Bill Russell was, the Boston Celtics said in a statement.

In 2011, President Barack Obama awarded Russell the Medal of Freedom alongside Congressman John Lewis, billionaire investor Warren Buffett, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and baseball great Stan Musial.

Bill Russell, the person, is somebody who stood up for the rights and dignity of most men, Obama said at the ceremony. He marched with King; he stood by Ali. Whenever a restaurant refused to serve the Black Celtics, he refused to play in the scheduled game. 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.

Russell said that whenever he was growing up in the segregated South and later California his parents instilled in him the calm confidence that allowed him to brush off racist taunts.

Years later, people asked me what I had to undergo, Russell said in 2008. Unfortunately, or fortunately, Ive never experienced anything. From my first moment to be alive was the idea that my mom and dad loved me. It had been Russells mother who simply tell him to disregard comments from those that might see him playing in the yard.

Whatever they state, good or bad, they dont know you, he recalled her saying. Theyre wrestling making use of their own demons.

Nonetheless it was Jackie Robinson who gave Russell a road map for coping with racism in his sport: Jackie was a hero to us. He always conducted himself as a guy. He showed me the best way to be considered a man in professional sports.

The sensation was mutual, Russell learned, when Robinsons widow, Rachel, called and asked him to become a pallbearer at her husbands funeral in 1972.

She hung the telephone up and I asked myself, How can you get to be considered a hero to Jackie Robinson? Russell said. I was so flattered.

William Felton Russell was created on Feb. 12, 1934, in Monroe, Louisiana. He was a kid when his family moved to the West Coast, and he visited senior high school in Oakland, California, and the University of SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA. He led the Dons to NCAA championships in 1955 and 1956 and won a gold medal in 1956 at the Melbourne Olympics in Australia.

Celtics coach and general manager Red Auerbach so coveted Russell he exercised a trade with the St. Louis Hawks for the next pick in the draft. He promised the Rochester Royals, who owned the No. 1 pick, a lucrative visit by the Ice Capades, that have been also run by Celtics owner Walter Brown.

Still, Russell found its way to Boston to complaints he wasnt that good. People said it had been a wasted draft choice, wasted money, he recalled. They said, Hes no good. All he is able to do is block shots and rebound. And Red said, Thats enough.

The Celtics also found Tommy Heinsohn and K.C. Jones, Russells college teammate, in exactly the same draft. Although Russell joined the team late because he was leading the U.S. to the Olympic gold, Boston finished the standard season with the leagues best record.

The Celtics won the NBA championship their to begin 17 in a double-overtime seventh game against Bob Pettits St. Louis Hawks. Russell won his first MVP award another season, however the Hawks won the title in a finals rematch. The Celtics won everything again in 1959, starting an unprecedented string of eight consecutive NBA crowns.

A 6-foot-10 center, Russell never averaged a lot more than 18.9 points during his 13 seasons, every year averaging more rebounds per game than points. For 10 seasons he averaged a lot more than 20 rebounds. He once had 51 rebounds in a casino game; Chamberlain holds the record with 55.

Auerbach retired after winning the 1966 title, and Russell became the player-coach the initial Blackhead coach in NBA history, and almost ten years before Frank Robinson took over baseballs Cleveland Indians. Boston finished with the second-best regular-season record in the NBA, and its own title streak ended with a loss to Chamberlain and the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Division finals.

Russell led the Celtics back again to titles in 1968 and 69, every time winning seven-game playoff series against Chamberlain. Russell retired following the 69 finals, returning for a comparatively successful but unfulfilling four-year stint as coach and GM of the Seattle SuperSonics and a less fruitful half season as coach of the Sacramento Kings.

Russells No. 6 jersey was retired by the Celtics in 1972. He earned spots on the NBAs 25th anniversary all-time team in 1970, 35th anniversary team in 1980 and 75th anniversary team. In 1996, he was hailed as among the NBAs 50 greatest players.

In 2009, the MVP trophy of the NBA Finals was named in his honor despite the fact that Russell never won himself, since it wasnt awarded for the very first time until 1969. Russell, however, traditionally presented the trophy for several years, the last amount of time in 2019 to Kawhi Leonard; Russell had not been there in 2020 due to the NBA bubble nor in 2021 because of COVID-19 concerns.

In 2013, a statue was unveiled on Bostons City Hall Plaza of Russell surrounded by blocks of granite with quotes on leadership and character. Russell was inducted in to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975 but didn’t attend the ceremony, saying he shouldn’t have been the initial African American elected. (Chuck Cooper, the NBAs first Black player, was his choice.)

In 2019, Russell accepted his Hall of Fame ring in an exclusive gathering. I felt others before me must have had that honor, he tweeted. Good to see progress.

Silver said he categorised as (Russell) basketballs Babe Ruth for how he transcended time.

Bill was the best winner and consummate teammate, and his influence on the NBA will undoubtedly be felt forever, Silver added. We send our deepest condolences to his wife, Jeannine, his family and his many friends.

His family said that arrangements for Russells memorial service will undoubtedly be announced in the coming days.


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