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Few people in American history, both inside and outside of the sports world, made as meaningful of an impact and left as lasting of an impression as Bill Russell did.
It comes as no surprise, then, that so many members of the NBA family paid tribute to the legend after his family announced Sunday he had died at the age of 88:
Russell is synonymous with winning, taking home 11 championships in his 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics. No player in NBA history has won as many rings as he did, and he did so as a five-time MVP, 12-time All-Star and 11-time All-NBA selection who was the focal point for his team and opposing defenses.
He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and remains one of the greatest players in the storied history of the Celtics.
The franchise honored him Sunday:
Russell would have been an all-time great as just a player with the accolades he accumulated, but he was also a player-coach for Boston before coaching the Seattle SuperSonics and Sacramento Kings.
He is a Hall of Famer as a player and coach and was the first Black head coach in NBA history. Two of his rings came when he was a player-coach for the Celtics.
However, Russell’s biggest impact may have came off the court. He was a notable civil rights activist even in the face of racism as a prominent Black athlete, which his family’s announcement highlighted:
“But for all the winning, Bill’s understanding of the struggle is what illuminated his life. From boycotting a 1961 exhibition game to unmask too-long-tolerated discrimination, to leading Mississippi’s first integrated basketball camp in the combustible wake of Medgar Evans’ assassination, to decades of activism ultimately recognized by his receipt of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010, 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.”
Former President Barack Obama is the one who awarded him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and he reflected on Russell’s legacy as well:
Russell will forever be a legend both inside and outside of the NBA, which the reaction to his death further proved.