We are sadden to report that 11-time NBA Champion & Civil Rights icon Bill Russell has passed away at age 88. The news was first broken from Bill Russell’s official tribute account at 1:09 PM EST today. Russell was just recently named to the NBA 75 Greatest Players of all-time list and the NBA Finals MVP award was renamed in his honor on February 14, 2009.
An announcement… pic.twitter.com/KMJ7pG4R5Z
— TheBillRussell (@RealBillRussell) July 31, 2022
Born February 12, 1934 in West Monroe, Louisiana in the Jim Crow South, Russell fell in love with basketball at a young age. He was an amazing athlete, but his lack of understanding of the game at his age lead to a steep learning curve. After encouragement from McClymonds High School head coach George Powles, he worked on his basketball fundamentals. This led to him becoming a stall-worth defensive presence with his amazing jumping ability and length. He became a student of defense, studying other players footwork and movements to determine how to best prevent them from scoring.
He played collegiate basketball at University of San Francisco, where he and his black teammates endured racial harassment in home and road environments. Sometimes, hotels and businesses in areas in which the team played refused to admit Russell and his teammates. He overcame the societal ills and led University of San Francisco to back-to-back NCAA Championship wins in 1955 & 1956. Russell also was initiated into the Gamma Alpha Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Incorporated in 1955.
Russell joined the Boston Celtics in 1956, having not being able to play for the Celtics as a drafted rookie until December of that year due to him serving as the captain of the US Olympic Basketball Team. Russell went on to lead the Celtics to 8 straight NBA Championships from 1958-1966. This feat has yet to be duplicated in modern day sports. Russell became the first Black head coach in NBA history when Red Auerbach appointed him as a player-coach. Russell quipped to the media at the time, “I wasn’t offered the job because I am a Negro, I was offered it because Red figured I could do it.” Russell won two championships as a player-coach, one of which was won during the 8-championship run. In today’s NBA, 15 of the league’s 30 teams have black coaches including Russell’s Celtics with Ime Udoka.
Russell is the most decorated sports athlete in North American sports. He won 11 championships as a player, 5 NBA MVP awards (3 of which he won consecutively from 1961-1963). He was a 3-time All-NBA First Team & 8-time All-NBA Second Team player. He was also the 2010 recipient of the Medal Of Freedom from President Barack Obama.
Bill Russell was Black History personified. None the accomplishments written in this article can state the impact of his life and the advancement of African-Americans in collegiate and professional sports. He will be missed and his legacy will forever live on.