Bill Russell: NBA great, Bill Russel anchored a Boston Celtics dynasty that won 11 championships in 14 years, the last two, first-ever Black head coaches in any US sport, died on Sunday at the age of 88.
The news erupted after Russell’s family posted the news over social media and said, Russell died with his wife Jeannine, by his side. However, the cause of his death is still not known.
“Bill’s wife, Jeannine, and his many friends and family thank you for keeping Bill in your prayers. Perhaps you’ll relive one or two of the golden moments he gave us, or recall his trademark laugh as he delighted in explaining the real story behind how those moments unfolded,” the family statement said.
“And 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. That would be one last, and lasting, win for our beloved #6.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement that Russell was “the greatest champion in all of team sports.”
“Bill stood for something much bigger than sports: the values of equality, respect and inclusion that he stamped into 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 down to generations of NBA players who followed in his footsteps,” Mr. Silver said. Through the taunts, threats and unthinkable adversity, Bill rose above it all and remained true to his belief that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity.
Bill has been 5 times most valuable player and 12-time All-star. In 1980, he was voted the greatest player in NBA history by the basketball writers. Most often, the only player who was a worthy rival for Russell was Wilt Chamberlain.
President Barack Obama awarded the medal of freedom to Bill Russell, Congressman John Lewis, German Chancellor Angela Marker, Billionaire investor Warren Buffet, and baseball great stan Musial in 2011.
“Bill Russell, the man, is someone who stood up for the rights and dignity of all men,” Obama said at the ceremony. “He marched with King; he stood by Ali. When a restaurant refused to serve the Black Celtics, he refused to play in the scheduled game. He endured insults and vandalism, but he kept on focusing on making the teammates who he loved better players and made possible the success of so many who would follow.”
Bill said, growing up in the south and later in California, USA, his parents raised him with calm confidence and this allowed him to go over racist taunts.
“Years later, people asked me what I had to go through,” Russell said in 2008. “Unfortunately, or fortunately, I’ve never been through anything. From my first moment of being alive was the notion that my mother and father loved me.” It was Russell’s mother who would tell him to disregard comments from those who might see him playing in the yard.
“Whatever they say, good or bad, they don’t know you,” he recalled her saying. “They’re wrestling with their own demons.”
But it was Jackie Robinson who gave Russell a road map for dealing with racism in his sport: “Jackie was a hero to us. He always conducted himself as a man. He showed me the way to be a man in professional sports.”