Photo by: Paul Marotta/Getty Images
Bill Russell, the renowned Celtics center and a model of racial tolerance and advancement, passed away on Sunday at the age of 88, according to his family’s Twitter post.
According to the release, his wife Jeannine was by his side. The confirmation did not specify how or where Mr. Russell passed away.
“It is with a very heavy heart we would like to pass along to all of Bill’s friends, fans, & followers,” the official statement revealed. “Bill Russell, the most prolific winner in American sports history, passed away peacefully today at age 88, with his wife, Jeannine, by his side. Arrangements for his memorial service will be announced soon.”
William Felton Russell was born on February 12th, 1934, in Monroe, Louisiana.
His family relocated to the Bay Area, and he enrolled at Oakland’s McClymonds High School. During his time on his high school basketball team, Russell was given a scholarship to San Francisco due to his height, and he ultimately excelled in the sport.
Russell’s influence during his career—and the impact he continued to have as one of the most socially engaged and active players that anyone has ever seen—can hardly be quantified in terms of the sport alone or society at large. The NBA community and present and former Celtics are all feeling the loss very strongly.
“To be the greatest champion in your sport, to revolutionize the way the game is played, and to be a societal leader all at once seems unthinkable, but that is who Bill Russell was,” the Celtics stated in an official statement. “Bill was a champion unlike any other in the history of team sports — an 11-time NBA champion, including winning eight consecutive titles, a five-time MVP, an Olympic gold medalist, and the NBA’s first Black head coach.”
Throughout a 13-year career with the Boston Celtics, Russell won an NBA-record 11 championships, including eight straight, and for the final two of those seasons, he also served as the team’s head coach.
The 88-year-old iconic basketball star, a 12-time All-Star and five-time MVP had a remarkable shot-blocking ability that completely altered NBA defensive strategies.
He concluded his career with 21,620 rebounds or 22.5 per game and four times had the most rebounds in the league. He recorded 12 seasons with 1,000 or more rebounds, including games with 51 and 49 rebounds. Russell averaged 4.3 assists and 15.1 points a game throughout his career.
“I was an innovator,” Russell said during an interview with The New York Times in 2011. “I started blocking shots although I had never seen shots blocked before that. The first time I did that in a game, my coach called timeout and said, ‘No good defensive player ever leaves his feet.'”
While Russell is widely regarded as one of the greatest NBA players of all time, his impact reached far beyond the basketball court. Russell marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and spent a lifetime speaking out against injustice when doing so not only risked his career but also his life.
In 2011, Former President Barack Obama presented Russell with the Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian decoration. And the NBA gave him its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017.
“Today, we lost a giant,” Obama stated. “As tall as Bill Russell stood, his legacy rises far higher — both as a player and as a person. Perhaps more than anyone else, Bill knew what it took to win and what it took to lead.”
Our deepest condolences are with his family, friends and everyone that his incredible humanitarian work has impacted.