He is for his family “the greatest hitter in American sports history” and for former President Barack Obama “a giant” : Bill Russell, crowned eleven-time NBA champion with the Celtics and civil rights defender, died on Sunday July 31.
The NBA, and American sport more broadly, has lost one of its legends. His record is impressive and probably will never be equaled: in thirteen seasons in the NBA, all under the green jersey of the Boston Celtics, Russell won eleven league titles, a record that still stands, including eight of consecutively from 1959 to 1966. He was also the first black American appointed to lead a franchise in an American professional sport and the first to be crowned, in his second year (1967), at the head of “his” Celtics.
Also outside the basketball courts Russell became a figure in American society, which earned him in 2011, from the hands of Barack Obama, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in America. .
“Today we lost a giant”the former president of America reacted to the announcement of his death. “On the court, he is the greatest champion in the history of basketball. Off the court, he was a civil rights pioneer, marching with Dr. (Martin Luther) King and standing next to Muhammad Ali. For decades Bill endured name-calling and harassment, but that didn’t stop him from standing up for what was right. I learned a lot from the way he played, the way he coached and the way he lived his life.”added Barack Obama.
Today, we have lost a giant.
As tall as Bill Russell is, his legacy is even longer—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 equally throughout our lives. We have never fully lived up to that promise, but Bill Russell has made sure we never stop”also greeted current President Joe Biden, in a press release.
Born in 1934 in Louisiana, in a Deep South that still lived under a regime of racial discrimination, before moving with his family to California in the 1940s, Russell used his fame to advance the cause of rights. in civil.
In 1963, he participated in Martin Luther King’s 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 the racist hatred and hatred, which was rooted in every aspect of American life. But he never gave up. Throughout his life, he forced us to face hard truths.”underlined by Joe Biden.
The NBA paid tribute to “greatest champion in any team sport”. “Bill stood for something bigger than sport: the values of equality, respect and inclusion he wrote into the DNA of our league”NBA boss Adam Silver said in a statement.
Current Celtics players also paid tribute to him. “You changed not only the league but the world”Grant Williams tweeted, while Jaylen Brown posted a message thanking Bill Russell “for leading the way and inspiring many people”.
To be the greatest champion of your sport, to change the way the game is played, and to be a leader in society all at once seems unthinkable, but that’s Bill Russell. (1/4) pic.twitter.com/K0Ue0hKiLs
—Boston Celtics (@celtics) July 31, 2022
“Bill Russell is my idol”, The former leader of the Los Angeles Lakers, Magic Johnson, reacted on his part. “He was one of the first sportsmen to fight on the front lines for social justice, equity, equality and civil rights.” Star Michael Jordan praised “pioneer”WHO “paved the way and set an example for all the black players who entered the league after him, including me”. “The world has lost a legend with the passing of Bill Russell. His impact on basketball and society will never be forgotten.”said former New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing.
While the date of his funeral has not been set, his family hopes that “each of us will find a way to speak and act in Bill’s way, without compromise, with dignity and always in a constructive way.”