The sports world is mourning as news broke that Bill Russell, the pioneering center who was the backbone of the NBA’s Boston Celtics dynasty in the 1950s and 1960s and a champion for civil rights, has passed away.
On Sunday (July 31st), the family of the basketball icon broke the news via his official Twitter account that he had passed with his wife, Jeannine, at his side at the age of 88. His family gave no further details.
Born on Feb. 12th, 1934, William Felton Russell spent his early years in Monroe, Louisiana, before he and his family relocated to Oakland, California. Drawn to sports in high school, Russell would excel at basketball with his hard-nosed and high-flying defensive style at the center position, parlaying it into a standout collegiate career, winning two NCAA titles for the University of San Francisco.
After winning gold in the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia, he was drafted by the Boston Celtics with the second pick. As their center (and initially their only Black player), Russell would lead the franchise to its first of eleven titles over the next thirteen years.
Two of those titles were earned while he was the first Black coach in the NBA, leading the team while still playing. During his career, he would also be named Most Valuable Player five times, named a league All-Star 12 times, and rack up stats such as averaging over 20 rebounds a game for all but three seasons.
Bill Russell Was Also A Legend Off The Basketball Court
Russell was also a significant force for civil rights in the United States. He marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1963 March on Washington and worked with Medgar Evers’ brother Charles to open the first integrated basketball camp in Mississippi.
He also was part of a group of athletes who supported Muhammad Ali in his 1967 stand against being drafted for the Vietnam War. Russell’s spirit of justice remained strong throughout his later years. September 2017 when he famously posted a photo of himself taking a knee while holding the Presidential Medal of Freedom given to him by President Barack Obama in 2010 in support of blacklisted NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protest against police brutality.
Former teammate Bob Cousy expressed his thoughts after Russell’s passing: “Russell goes down as the best winner ever in American team sports.
That’s pretty significant, and that’s never going to change. He fought the good fight, obviously, on the floor, but he fought the good fight off the floor, fighting racism all his life. Sticking his tongue out at the opponent. That’s not easy to do.”
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