Bill Russell has sadly passed away, aged 88, his family has confirmed.
In a statement posted on his Twitter page, they said: “Bill Russell, the most prolific winner in American sports history, passed away peacefully today at age 88, with his wife, Jeannine, by his side.”
The NBA legend won 11 championships during his 13-year career with the Boston Celtics as well as being a two-time Hall of Famer.
Watch this tribute to Bill Russell below…
Russell was also the first ever Black head coach for any major US sports organisation.
His influence on the sport was unprecedented, to the point in 2009 the NBA renamed the ‘Finals Most Valuable Player’ award to ‘Bill Russell’s NBA Finals Most Valuable Player’ award.
However, Russell’s work off the court is equally, or if not more, significant.
The statement adds: “But for all the winning, Bill’s understanding of the struggle is what illuminated his life.
“From boycotting a 1961 exhibition game to unmask too-long-tolerated discrimination, to leading Mississippi’s first integrated basketball camp in the combustible wake of Medgar Evans’ assassination, to decades of activism ultimately recognized by his receipt of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010, Bill called out injustice with an unforgiving candour 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.”
Russell famously refused to show up at one of his own Hall of Fame inductions as he believed that other Black players should have received the award before him.
Tributes from all around the world have poured in, with former President Barack Obama writing: As tall as Bill Russell stood, his legacy rises far higher — both as a player and as a person.
“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. 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.”
Fellow Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas wrote: “Rest in peace Bill Russell you were everything we all aspired to be, your winning spirit will live forever my friend. Thank you for your words of wisdom.”
NBA icon Michael Jordan said in a statement: “Bill Russell was a pioneer – 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 … may he rest in peace.”
Our thoughts are with the Russell family during this time.
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