Bill Russell passes away  

Bill Russell, an 11-time NBA champion as a player and coach with the Boston Celtics and one of the most important figures in NBA history, has died at the age of 88. Russell passed away peacefully with his wife Jeanine. 

“Bill’s wife, Jeanine, and many of his friends and family thanked Bill for keeping him in their prayers. Perhaps you’ll relive one or two of the golden moments he had, or explain the real story. I will remember with delight his trademark laugh. Behind those moments unfolding. And we hope that each of us has a chance to act or speak with Bill’s unshakable, respectful and always constructive commitment to principle. The new way can be found. This will be a last, and lasting, victory for our beloved #6.”

cause of death of bill russell

Russell died on Sunday at the age of 88. His family posted the news on social media saying that his wife Jeanine is with them. The statement did not specify a cause of death, but Russell was not well enough to present the NBA Finals MVP Trophy in June due to a prolonged illness.

Russell a track star in San Francisco

Born in Louisiana in 1934, Russell was not initially considered basketball’s top prospect. His first scholarship offer came from the University of San Francisco, a school hardly known for its basketball skills, but one that Russell was able to take to consecutive national championships in 1955 and 1956. In addition to basketball, Russell was a track star in San Francisco. He won an Olympic gold medal in basketball as the captain of Team USA in 1956 before turning professional. 

The most prolific champ in NBA history, Russell marched with Martin Luther King Jr., endorsed Muhammad Ali and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. The centerpiece of the Boston Celtics dynasty that won 11 championships in 13 years, Russell earned his last two NBA titles as player-coach—the first black coach in any major American sport.

Russell not first choice in 1956 NBA draft

Russell was not the first choice in the 1956 NBA Draft. That honor went to Duquesne Wing Sea Green. This made Russell available at No. 2, where the St. Louis Hawks were drafting. However, circumstances worked in Russell’s favor. Boston Celtics star Ed McCauley’s son was being treated for spinal meningitis in St. Louis, so he asked the team to send him there as a favor. He did so, and landed the No. 2 pick in exchange for Boston Macaulay and fellow Hall-of-Famer Cliff Hagen. The deal didn’t blow up in St. Louis’ face at all. Although they lost to Boston in the 1957 final, the Hawks returned to win it all in a rematch with the Celtics in 1958. But that will be the last championship they will ever win. Russell won 10 more, including eight in a row. 

Trade was as important to Russell as it was to the Celtics. “If I had been drafted by St. Louis, I would not be in the NBA,” Russell said in an interview with NBATV. “St. Louis was highly racist.” Sadly, Russell faced racism in his early life in the South and throughout his career in Boston, and he went on to become one of the most socially conscious athletes in American history. He personally participated in Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and was one of many black athletes and leaders who attended the 1967 Cleveland Summit in support of Muhammad Ali. In 1966, Russell became the first black head coach in American sports history, When he replaced Red Orbach in Boston. He retained his role as the team’s starting center, coaching the team on the way to their last two championships.

Russell left the Celtics once his playing career ended. He later worked as a television broadcaster before returning to coaching with the Seattle SuperSonics. He went down four games to a .500 in four seasons at Seattle before leaving. He would coach another season a decade later with the Sacramento Kings, but he otherwise remained largely out of the public eye for the next several decades, living out of his home in Washington.

But he appeared more regularly in public in his final years, often being honored for his remarkable achievements as a sportsman and activist. In 2009, the NBA renamed the Finals MVP award after Russell, and he personally participated in the 2009 Finals to award the trophy to Kobe Bryant. He would do this several times, but it was especially meaningful to Bryant because of the friendship they formed. When Bryant died in a 2020 helicopter crash, Russell wrote an emotional social media post remembering the legend. Bryant may have played for the rival Lakers, but Russell often made himself available to modern players seeking advice.

Bill Russell played 21 matches

Many people were looking for him, because above all else Russell was on the court, the biggest winner of the game. He lost only two playoff series in his entire career. He never lost a winner-take-all game. Not in college. Not in the Olympics. Not in the NBA. He has played all 21 such matches out of which he has won. Russell grew up when it mattered the most, both on and off the court and this is what he will always be remembered for.

Bill Russell’s statement

“It seems unimaginable to be the greatest champion in your sport, to revolutionize the way the game is played, and to be a social leader all at once, but that’s what Bill Russell was,” the Boston Celtics said in a statement.

In 2011, Obama awarded the Medal of Freedom to Russell, along with Congressman John Lewis, billionaire investor Warren Buffett, then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel and baseball great Stan Musiel.

“Bill Russell is the man who has stood up for the rights and dignity of all men,” Obama said at the ceremony. “He went with the king; He was standing with Ali. When a restaurant refused to serve Black Celtics, it refused to play in the scheduled game. He tolerated humiliation and vandalism, but he focused on making the teammates he loved better players and making possible the success of so many who would follow. ,

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

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