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NBA and Celtics legend Bill Russell dies

(NEXSTAR) – Bill Russell, one of the greatest NBA players of all time, has died at the age of 88, his family announced Sunday.

Called by his family “the most prolific winner in American sports history,” Russell was an 11-time NBA champion, captain of the gold-medal-winning U.S. Olympic team, and the first black head coach of a North American professional sports team. . .

Born in Monroe, Louisiana on February 12, 1934, Russell and his family later moved to California. He attended high school in Oakland, where he led the University of San Francisco to his NCAA championship in 1955 and 1956. He also won a gold medal at the 1956 Olympics.

Russell was selected by the St. Louis Hawks in the first round of the 1956 NBA Draft, but was soon traded to the Boston Celtics. He spent his 13 years in Boston. He spent 10 years as a player and 3 years as a coach. During that time, the team won 11 championships.

He was the first black head coach in NBA history when he became a player-manager in 1966. He retired after his 1969 NBA Finals, but for the next four years he coached and generalized the Seattle SuperSonics, and coached Sacramento for half a season. Kings.

The Hall of Famer was named Most Valuable Player five times and was named an All-Star 12 times. In 1980, Russell was named the greatest player in NBA history by basketball reporters. He remains the most prolific winner in the sport, epitomizing the selflessness of winning on defense and rebounding while delegating scoring to others. In many cases, that means Wilt Chamberlain, the only player of the era worthy of Russell’s rivalry.

Russell’s number 6 jersey was retired by the Celtics in 1972. He earned a spot on his NBA’s 25th anniversary team in 1970 and his 35th anniversary team in 1980. In 2009, his MVP trophy of the NBA Finals was named after him.

In 2013, Boston’s City Hall Plaza of Russell unveiled a statue surrounded by granite blocks with quotes about leadership and character. Russell was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975, but didn’t attend the ceremony, saying he shouldn’t have been the first African-American to be elected. (Chuck Cooper, the NBA’s first black player, was his choice.)

In 2019, Russell received his Hall of Fame ring at a private gathering. “I thought someone before me should have the honor,” he tweeted. “It’s nice to see progress.”

“But despite all the triumphs, Bill’s understanding of the struggle has lit up his life,” Russell’s family said in a statement. [unmasking] Discrimination that has been tolerated for far too long, dozens finally recognized for leading Mississippi’s first all-around basketball camp after the fire following the assassination of Medgar Evans, and receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010 Down to years of activism, Bill invoked injustice with his relentless candor. What he intended was to disrupt the status quo, not his humble intentions, but a powerful example that will forever inspire teamwork, selflessness and thoughtful change. ”

After the Celtics team practice in Waltham, Massachusetts, on Monday, October 11, 1999, legendary Boston Celtics center Bill Russell takes a moment to answer questions from members of the media. The Hall of Famer is working with the team on Monday. and Tuesday, and return to the team regularly to monitor, teach, and develop the players. (AP Photo/Angela Rowlings)

Russell participated in the 1963 march on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the “I have a dream” speech. Russell stood by Muhammad Ali when he was put in a pillory for refusing to be drafted.

In 2011, President Barack Obama awarded Russell the Medal of Freedom.

“A man named Bill Russell stood up for the rights and dignity of all people,” Obama said at the ceremony. Although he endured insults and vandalism, he remained focused on making the teammates he loved better players, and the loss of so many others that followed. It made my success possible.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement Sunday that Russell is “the greatest champion in all team sports.”

“Bill stood for something much bigger than sport: the values ​​of equality, respect and inclusion he instilled in our league’s DNA. It’s a legacy that spans generations of NBA players who have followed in his footsteps, tirelessly advocating for rights and social justice,” said Silver. “Overcoming ridicule, intimidation and unimaginable adversity, Bill stood above all else and remained true to his belief that all people deserve to be treated with dignity.

Russell “passed away peacefully” on Sunday with his wife Janine. His cause of death has not yet been made public.

His family said plans for Russell’s memorial service will be announced in the coming days.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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