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Boston Celtics, NBA legend obituary – NBC Chicago

Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell, who won 11 championships in 13 seasons with the team, has died, his family announced Sunday. He was 88 years old.

A world batsman on the field and an Olympic gold medalist, Russell was also known as a pioneer in the fight for civil rights, walking with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and speaking out about his treatment as a black player in a city – and country – where race was often a flashpoint. He broke the color barrier in major American sports as the first black head coach.

His family released a message celebrating the life of one of the NBA’s greatest players.

“Bill’s wife, Jeannine, and his many friends and family thank you for keeping Bill in your prayers. Perhaps you will relive one or two of the golden moments he gave us, or you will remember with his signature laugh as he reveled in explaining the real story behind how those moments unfolded,” they said.

His death was followed by a flood of memories from the Celtics and NBA communities.

The Celtics released a team statement Sunday mourning his passing and celebrating his “enormous legacy in basketball, Boston and beyond.”

“Being the greatest champion in your sport, revolutionizing the way the game is played and being a leader of society all at once seems unthinkable, but that’s what Bill Russell was all about,” the team wrote. “Bill was a champion like no other in the history of team sports – an 11-time NBA champion, including eight consecutive titles, a five-time MVP, an Olympic gold medalist and the first black head coach in the NBA. NBA.”

“Bill Russell’s DNA is woven through every element of the Celtics organization, from the relentless pursuit of excellence, to the celebration of team awards over individual glory, to a commitment to social justice and civil rights off the pitch.”

Wyc Grousbeck, Steve Pagliuca and the Boston Celtics ownership group also released a brief statement saying that Russell “embodied character and commitment and was truly one of the best people to ever live.”

“He will be remembered forever and deservedly so.”

NBA commissioner Adam Silver called Russell “the greatest champion of all team sports.”

Easily among the 75 greatest players in NBA history, Russell was named the league’s most valuable player five times and was named an All-Star 12 times. The 6-foot-9 center changed the way defense was played in the league.

“Bill represented something much bigger than sport: the values ​​of equality, respect and inclusion that he inscribed in our league’s DNA. At the height of his athletic career, Bill vigorously advocated for civil rights and social justice, a legacy he passed on to generations of NBA players who followed in his footsteps,” Silver said in a statement. “Through taunts, threats and unthinkable adversity, Bill rose above it all and stayed true to his belief that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity.”

PHOTOS: NBA life, Celtics great Bill Russell

Russell won two high school state championships at McClymonds in Oakland, California, followed by two more NCAA titles at the University of San Francisco, then won a gold medal in 1956 at the Melbourne Olympics in Australia.

Eleven titles with the Celtics – including two as a player-coach – followed, bringing his tally to 16.

He remains basketball’s most prolific winner and an archetype of selflessness who won with defense and rebounding while leaving the score to others. Often that meant Wilt Chamberlain, the only player at the time who was a worthy rival for Russell. But Russell dominated in the one stat that mattered to him: 11 championships to two.

Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell, who won 11 championships in 13 seasons with the team, has died, his family announced Sunday. He was 88 years old.

The Louisiana native also left a lasting mark as a black athlete in America. He was at the March on Washington in 1963 when Martin Luther King Jr. gave his ‘I have a dream’ speech, and he supported Muhammad Ali when the boxer was pilloried for refusing to be inducted into the military service.

In 2011, President Barack Obama awarded Russell the Medal of Freedom alongside Congressman John Lewis, billionaire investor Warren Buffett, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and baseball great Stan Musial.

“Bill Russell, the man, is someone who stood up for the rights and dignity of all men,” Obama said at the ceremony. “He walked with King; he was at Ali’s side. When a restaurant refused to serve the Black Celtics, they refused to play in the scheduled game. He endured insults and vandalism, but he continued to focus on making the teammates he loved better players and made success possible for so many who would follow.

Russell said growing up in the segregated South and later in California, his parents instilled in him the calm confidence that allowed him to shrug off racist taunts.

“Years later people asked me what I had to go through,” Russell said in 2008. “Unfortunately, or fortunately, I never went through anything. From my first moment of life, I had the idea that my mother and my father loved me. It was Russell’s mother telling him to disregard comments from anyone who might see him play in the yard.

“Whatever they say, good or bad, they don’t know you,” he recalls. “They are battling their own demons.”

But it was Jackie Robinson who gave Russell a roadmap for tackling racism in his sport: “Jackie was a hero for us. He always behaved like a man. He showed me how to be a man in professional sports.

The feeling was mutual, Russell learned, when Robinson’s widow Rachel called and asked him to be a pallbearer to her husband’s funeral in 1972.

“She hung up the phone and I was like, ‘How do you become a hero for Jackie Robinson? “, Russell said. “I was so flattered.

Born Feb. 12, 1934, in Monroe, Louisiana, Russell was originally selected by the St. Louis Hawks with the second overall pick in the 1956 NBA Draft. But Red Auerbach orchestrated a trade with the Hawks that sent six-time All-Star Ed Macauley — as well as draft rights to Cliff Hagan — in St. Louis in exchange for the rights to Russell.

Hagan and Macauley also ended up in the Basketball Hall of Fame, but Russell’s selection – along with future Hall of Famers Tommy Heinsohn and KC Jones in 1956 – paved the way for Boston’s run as the NBA’s first dynasty. throughout the rest of the 50s and well into the 60s.

Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain are some of the best centers in NBA history.

Russell’s last two championships came as a coach as well as a Celtics star – he took over coaching duties from Auerbach after the 1966 title.

After retiring from the NBA as a player, a 963-game career in which he averaged 15.1 points and 22.5 rebounds per game, Russell spent four seasons as a coach- leader of the Seattle SuperSonics from 1973 to 1977 and a season with the Sacramento Kings in 1987. -88.

Russell’s No. 6 jersey has been retired by the Celtics since 1972.

Jimmy Golen of The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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