Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell dies at 88

Bill Russell has died at 88. Images: (left) The Real Bill Russell, Twitter; Jim Ruymen/UPI

July 31 (UPI) — NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell died on Sunday, his family announced in a statement. He was 88 years old.

Russell, who won 11 championships throughout his career, all with the Boston Celtics, died “peacefully” with his wife Jeannine at his side, the family said. No cause of death was mentioned.

“Bill’s wife, Jeannine, and his many friends and family thank you for keeping Bill in your prayers,” the statement read. “Perhaps you’ll relive one or two of the golden moments he gave us, or recall his trademark laugh as he delighted in explaining the real story behind how those moments unfolded.”

Born William Felton Russell, on Feb. 12, 1934, in Monroe, La., Russell’s family moved to the Bay Area where he attended McClymonds High School in Oakland where joined the basketball team and ultimately earned a scholarship to the University of San Francisco.

Beginning with his junior year at USF, Russell won two straight NCAA championships, leading the team to 55 consecutive wins and was twice named an All-American.

He also won a gold medal at the 1956 Olympics.

That same year he was drafted to the Celtics where he carried the team to 12 NBA Finals appearances and 11 championships while being named league MVP five times in 13 years.

Russell was also the first Black head coach of any North American professional sports team when he was named the Celtics coach in 1966 and led the team to two championships.

Despite his historic career, Russell faced racism throughout his time with the Celtics, with his daughter, Karen Russell, writing in The New York Times in 1987 that their home was frequently broken into when the team was on the road, including instances where racial slurs were spray-painted on their walls, his trophy cases were smashed and burglars “defecated in their bed.”

“Bill called out injustice with an unforgiving candor that he intended would disrupt the status quo and with a powerful example that, though never his humble intention, will forever inspire teamwork, selflessness and thoughtful change,” his family said Sunday.

In 2011, Russell received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama as the White House said he “almost single-handedly redefined the game of basketball.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver praised Russell as “the greatest champion in all of team sports” in a statement Sunday.

“I cherished my friendship with Bill and was thrilled when he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. I often called him basketball’s Babe Ruth for how he transcended time,” he said. “Bill was the ultimate winner and consummate teammate, and his influence on the NBA will be felt forever. We send our deepest condolences to his wife, Jeannine, his family and his many friends.”


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