Bill Russell, stalwart of the Boston Celtics’ dynasty of the 1950s and 60s, the only NBA player to win 11 championships and the league’s first Black head coach, died on Sunday. He was 88.
His family posted the news on social media, saying Russell died with his wife, Jeannine, by his side.
“Bill’s wife, Jeannine, and his many friends and family thank you for keeping Bill in your prayers. Perhaps you’ll relive one or two of the golden moments he gave us, or recall his trademark laugh as he delighted in explaining the real story behind how those moments unfolded,” the statement said. “And we hope each of us can find a new way to act or speak up with Bill’s uncompromising, dignified and always constructive commitment to principle. That would be one last, and lasting, win for our beloved #6.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement that Russell was “the greatest champion in all of team sports.”
At 6-foot-10, Russell headlined an era of dominant centers in the NBA that included fellow Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain, his rival in eight playoff and championship battles.
A dominant shot blocker, Russell was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player five times, in addition to earning All-Star recognition on 12 occasions in his 13-year career. Russell racked up 21,620 career rebounds (22.5 per game), which ranks second only to Chamberlain’s career mark, and was a four-time season rebounding leader. He pulled down 51 rebounds in one game and 49 in two other outings, in addition to amassing 12 straight seasons with at least 1,000 boards.
The NBA did not track blocked shots until the 1973-74 season, well after Russell’s retirement in 1969. But he is widely regarded as one of the greatest rim protectors in league history, an agile and instinctive defender who brought a new level of athleticism to the NBA with his arrival in 1956.
Off the court, Russell was an outspoken advocate of the civil rights movement, and in 2011 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. Read more.