NBA legend Bill Russell, an 11-time NBA champion with the Boston Celtics and the first black head coach in the league, passed away “peacefully” on Sunday, according to a family statement from your verified Twitter account. She was 88 years old.
“It is with a heavy heart that we would like to pass this on to all of Bill’s friends, fans and supporters,” the statement read. “Bill Russell, the most prolific winner in American sports history, passed away peacefully today at the age of 88, with his wife, Jeannine, by his side. Arrangements for his memorial service will be announced soon.
“Bill’s two state championships in high school offered a glimpse of the team’s unparalleled streak of pure achievement to come: two-time NCAA champion; captain of a gold medal-winning US Olympic team; 11-time NBA champion; and commanding two NBA championships as the first black head coach of any North American professional sports team.
“Along the way, Bill won a series of individual awards that is unprecedented in that he didn’t mention them. In 2009, the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award was renamed in honor of the two-time Hall of Famer as ‘Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award’.
“Bill’s wife, Jeannine, and their many friends and family thank you for keeping Bill in your prayers. Perhaps relive one or two of the golden moments he gave us, or recall his trademark laugh as he delighted in explaining the true story behind how those moments unfolded. And we hope that each of us can find a new way to act or speak with Bill’s uncompromising, dignified, and always constructive commitment to principle. That would be one last and lasting win for our beloved #6.”
Russell won 11 championships with the Celtics, including eight in a row from 1959 to 1966. He was a five-time NBA MVP and a 12-time All-Star.
As coach of the Celtics, he led Boston to two titles, becoming the first black head coach to win an NBA championship.
The Celtics released a statement praising Russell and his contribution to both the team and the game as a whole.
“Being the greatest champion in 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,” the statement read.
“Bill Russell’s DNA is woven through every element of the Celtics organization, from the relentless pursuit of excellence, to the celebration of team rewards above individual glory, to the commitment to social justice and civil rights off the field. Our thoughts are with his family as we mourn his passing and celebrate his tremendous legacy in basketball, Boston and beyond.”
NBA legend Michael Jordan, widely considered the greatest basketball player of all time, said, “Bill Russell was a trailblazer, as a player, as a champion, as the NBA’s first black head coach, and as an activist. He paved the way and set an example for every black player who came into the league after him, including me. The world has lost a legend. My deepest condolences to his family and may he rest in peace.”
Former US President Barack Obama took to social media to praise Russell’s contribution to basketball and society: “Today, we lost a giant. As tall as Bill Russell was, his legacy soars higher, both as a player and as a person. Perhaps more than anyone, Bill knew what it took for him to win and what it took for him to lead. On the court, he was the greatest champion in basketball history. Other than that, he was a pioneer for civil rights: he marched with Dr. King and stood up with Muhammad Ali.
“For decades, Bill endured insults and vandalism, but he never let it stop him from standing up for what’s right. I learned a lot from the way he played, the way he trained and the way he lived his life. Michelle and I send our love to Bill’s family and everyone who admired him.”
NBA commissioner Adam Silver also shared his condolences.
“Bill Russell was the greatest champion in all of team sports,” Silver said in a statement. “The countless accolades he garnered for his storied 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 society at large.
“Bill represented something much bigger than sports: the values of equality, respect and inclusion that he imprinted in the DNA of our league. At the height of his athletic career, Bill was a vigorous advocate for civil rights and social justice, a legacy he passed on to generations of NBA players who followed in his footsteps. Through teasing, threats and unthinkable adversity, Bill overcame it all and stayed true to his belief that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity.”