NBA icon Bill Russell has died aged 88.
The Boston Celtics veteran racked up 11 titles with the team from 1956 and 1969 and won an Olympic gold medal in Melbourne with the United States in 1956.
His two NCAA titles at San Francisco in 1955 and ’56 paved the way for him to become a five-time NBA MVP and 12-time All-Star.
His family said in a statement on Sunday (31.07.22): “It is with a very heavy heart we would like to pass along to all of Bill’s friends, fans and followers: 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.”
Russell averaged 15.1 points and 22.5 rebounds over 13 seasons with the Celtics and was first inducted to the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 1975, and again as a coach in 2021.
His No 6 jersey is retired by the Celtics and in 2011 Russell was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honour.
The Louisiana athlete, hailed the greatest defensive player in NBA history, left a civil rights legacy and was at the March on Washington in 1963 when Martin Luther King Jr gave his “I Have a Dream”.
He also supported Muhammad Ali when the boxer was lambasted for refusing induction into the military draft.
President Barack Obama awarded Russell the Medal of Freedom in 2011 alongside congressman John Lewis, billionaire investor Warren Buffett, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and baseball hero Stan Musial.
Obama said at the time: “Bill Russell, the man, is someone who stood up for the rights and dignity of all men.
“He marched with King; he stood by Ali. When a restaurant refused to serve the black Celtics, he refused to play in the scheduled game.
“He endured insults and vandalism, but he kept on focusing on making the teammates who he loved better players and made possible the success of so many who would follow.”
Russell his parents gave him the calm confidence that allowed him to brush off racist taunts, saying in 2008 he felt their love as soon as he was born.