NBA legend Bill Russell has passed. The Boston Celtics legend, who came out on top for 11 NBA titles as a player and two as a coach en route to the Hall of Fame, passed on at 88 years old, his family announced Sunday.
Bill Russell was a colossal rebounder, incredible post protector and NBA Hall of Famer. And truly, he will be remembered as the greatest winner in b-ball history.
According to the family, Russell died calmly with his better half, Jeannine, by his side. Arrangement for his commemoration service will be announced soon, as per the statement.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver gave a statement referring to Russell as “the greatesr hero in all of sports.”
“The countless accolades that he earned for his career with the Boston Celtics — including a record 11 championships and five MVP awards – only begin to tell the story of Bill’s immense impact on our league and broader society,” Silver said.
“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” Silver added. “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.”
Silver expressed that in the a long time since Russell finished his exploring career as the NBA’s most memorable Black lead trainer, he kept on going to each major NBA Event, including the NBA Finals, where he presented the Finals MVP prize that was renamed for him in 2009.
“I cherished my friendship with Bill and was thrilled when he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom,” Silver said. “I often called him basketball’s Babe Ruth for how he transcended time. Bill was the ultimate winner and consummate teammate, and his influence on the NBA will be felt forever.”
There’s no amount of play and no role in the game where Russell was not a champ. Most remarkably, he came out on top for 11 NBA titles as a player with the Boston Celtics in the last part of the 1950s and ’60s. The last two titles – – in 1968 and 1969 – – came as both a player and the lead trainer.
While at the University of San Francisco, he came out on top for consecutive NCAA titles in 1955 and 1956. He won the honor for the competition’s most exceptional player in 1955 and was the UPI university player of the year in 1956. He found the middle value of 20.6 places and 21 bounce back for every game as a senior.
In the wake of wrapping up the NCAA title with the Dons in 1956, he went to the Melbourne Summer Olympics and won the gold medal with Team USA. He was the captain and drove the team in scoring.
The 6-foot-10 Russell caught the eye of legendary Celtics coach Red Auerbach in the 1956 NBA draft, so much so that he parted with star center Ed Macauley for Russell, who was drafted No. 2 overall by St. Louis. Russell joined college teammate K.C. Jones as part of the Celtics’ draft class.
The partnership between Russell and Auerbach became the best in b-ball history. The Celtics came out on top for the championship in his most memorable season as he found the middle value of 13.9 places and 24.4 bounce back per game.
The Celtics missed the mark in Russell’s second season in the NBA, through little shortcoming of Russell. He won his first of five MVP grants in 1958, however a physical issue in the NBA Finals gave an opening for the St. Louis Hawks – – the very group that had exchanged Russell on draft night – – to come out on top for the championship.
It was one of only twice he wouldn’t bring home the NBA title. In his 13 years in the league, he didn’t bring home a championship in just his second and eleventh seasons.
In 1959, the NBA and the country was introduced to the greatest rivalry in the game: Russell versus Wilt Chamberlain. The two weren’t just giants in the game, they were ultra-athletic, too. They revolutionized a game previously dominated by lumbering centers like George Mikan.
Chamberlain, acknowledged as the best offensive center in the game, and Russell, acknowledged as the best defensive center in the game, would battle for the rest of Russell’s career. Chamberlain, who played for the Warriors and then Sixers, usually got the better of the scoring battle — but Russell’s Celtics won the game.
The two met in the 1960 and ’62 playoffs and then the 1964 NBA Finals after the Warriors relocated to the West Coast. He averaged 11.2 points and 25.2 rebounds per game in a five-game series victory in the Finals. Traded back to the East, in the two tangled in the 1965 and ’66 playoffs — both wins for Russell’s Celtics.
Before the 1966-67 season, Auerbach decided to leave the bench and move into an executive role. He passed the role to Russell, who would be a player-coach for the next three seasons.
He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975 — the first Black player to be so honored — but declined to attend the ceremony. He wouldn’t accept his ring until a private ceremony in 2019. He announced on Twitter he had finally accepted the honor, saying a different Black players deserved to be the first to go into the Hall of Fame.
The Celtics retired his No. 6 in 1972 — an event he also did not attend.
Former President Barack Obama, who presented Russell with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, released a statement, saying, “Today, we lost a giant.”
“As tall as Bill Russell stood, his legacy rises far higher — both as a player and as a person,” Obama wrote. “Perhaps more than anyone else, Bill knew what it took to win and what it took to lead. On the court, he was the greatest champion in basketball history. Off of it, he was a civil rights trailblazer — marching with Dr. King and standing with Muhammad Ali. For decades, Bill endured insults and vandalism, but never let it stop him from speaking up for what’s right. I learned so much from the way he played, the way he coached, and the way he lived his life. Michelle and I send our love to Bill’s family, and everyone who admired him.”
Accolades for Russell poured in from current and former NBA players.
NBA Hall of Famer Erving “Magic” Johnson posted a series of tweets, writing, “I’m heartbroken to hear about the passing of the greatest winner the game of basketball has ever seen, a legend, hall of famer, mentor and my friend for over 30 years, Bill Russell.”
“Bill Russell was my idol. I looked up to him on the court and off. His success on the court was undeniable,” Johnson tweeted. “Off the court, Bill Russell paved the way for guys like me.”
Johnson added, “Despite all of his achievements, he was so humble, a gentle giant, a very intelligent man, and used his voice and platform to fight for Black people. Since the day we met, he mentored me and shared advice,” Johnson wrote. ‘He was one of the first athletes on the front line fighting for social justice, equity, equality, and civil rights. That’s why I admired and loved him so much. Over the course of our friendship, he always reminded me about making things better in the Black community.”