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Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell dies at 88

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Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell dies at 88
NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell, seen here attending the third annual NBA Awards in 2019, died on Sunday, his family announced in a statement. FilePhoto by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

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.

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"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.

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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 in Mebourne.

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. He also was a 12-time All-Star, including MVP in 1963.

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From 1956,69, he scored 14,522 points, averaging 15.1 per game with 21,620 rounds at 22.5 per game and 4,100 assists with 4.3 per game.

Russell 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. He coached the Celtics from 1956-69 then the Seattle SuperSonics from 1973-77 and the Sacramento Kings from 1987-88. His coaching record was 341-290.

He was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 1975 but he refused to attend "personal reasons," later later calling it insulting to all the Black playersnot inducted before him

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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."

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"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."

The Celtics offered condolences to Russell's family as the team remembered him as "a champion unlike any other in the history of team sports."

"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 over individual glory, to commitment to social justice and civil rights off the court," the team wrote on Twitter.

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Los Angeles Lakers legend Earvin "Magic" Johnson said he was "heartbroken" to hear about the death of Russell, whom he called his "idol" in a series of tweets Sunday.

"I looked up to him on the court and off. His success on the court was undeniable; he was [dominant] and great, winning 11 NBA championships. Off the court, Bill Russell paved the way for guys like me," Johnson wrote.

Bernice King, the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., described Russell as "a trailblazer who transcended sports in influencing our national and global landscape."

"A champion in many ways that matter," she added. "Thank you and rest in power, Sir Bill Russell."

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