it was for his family “the most prolific winner in American sports history” and by former President Barack Obama “a giant” : Bill Russell, eleven-time NBA champion with the Celtics and civil rights advocate, passed away on Sunday, July 31.
The NBA, and American sports in general, has lost one of its legends. His record is impressive and will probably never be equaled: In thirteen NBA seasons, all while wearing the green jersey of the Boston Celtics, Russell won eleven league titles, a record that still stands, including eight in a row from 1959 to 1966. He was the first black American appointed to lead an American professional sports franchise and the first to be crowned, in his second year (1967), at the head of “his” Celtics.
It is also off the basketball court that Russell became a figure in American society, earning him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest American civilian honor, in 2011 from Barack Obama.
“Today we lost a giant”reacted to the announcement of his death the former US president. “On the court, he was the greatest champion in basketball history. Off the court, he was a pioneer for civil rights, marching with Dr. (Martin Luther) King and standing next to Muhammad Ali. For decades, Bill endured insults and harassment, but that never stopped him from standing up for what was right. I learned a lot from his way of playing, his way of training and his way of living life.”Barack Obama added.
Today, we lost a giant.
As tall as Bill Russell was, his legacy soars much higher, both as a player and as a person.
—Barack Obama (@BarackObama) July 31, 2022
“America’s promise is that we are all created equal and deserve to be treated the same throughout our lives. We have never fully delivered on that promise, but Bill Russell made sure we never gave up.”he also greeted current President Joe Biden, in a press release.
Born in 1934 in Louisiana, in a deep south that still lives under a racially discriminatory regime, before moving with his family to California in the 1940s, Russell used his notoriety to advance the cause of civil rights.
In 1963, he participated in the Martin Luther King March on Washington. “From his childhood in segregated Louisiana to his career in the biggest gyms, during the height of the civil rights movement, Bill faced racist hostility and hatred, rooted in every aspect of American life. Yet he never he gave up. Throughout his life, he forced us to face hard truths.”Joe Biden stressed.
The NBA paid tribute to the “the greatest champion of any team sport”. “Bill stood for something much bigger than the sport: the values of equality, respect and inclusion that he inscribed in the DNA of our league.”NBA boss Adam Silver said in a statement.
Current Celtics players also paid tribute to him. “You not only changed the league but the world”tweeted Grant Williams, while Jaylen Brown posted a message thanking Bill Russell “for leading the way and inspiring so many people”.
Being the greatest champion of your sport, revolutionizing the way the game is played and being a social leader at the same time seems unthinkable, but that’s what Bill Russell was. (1/4) pic.twitter.com/K0Ue0hKiLs
—Boston Celtics (@celtics) July 31, 2022
“Bill Russell was my idol”, For his part, the former manager of the Los Angeles Lakers Magic Johnson reacted. “He was one of the first athletes to fight on the front lines for social justice, fairness, equality and civil rights.” The acclaimed star Michael Jordan “pioneer”who “He paved the way and set an example for every black player who came into the league after him, including me.”. “The world lost a legend with the passing of Bill Russell. His impact on basketball and society will not be forgotten.”former New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing said.
While his funeral date has not yet been set, his family hoped that “each of us finds ways to speak and act Bill’s way, without compromise, with dignity and an always constructive approach.”
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