NBA players mourn the death of titan Bill Russell at age 88

Russell is remembered for his staunch civil rights activism as much as his astounding 11 championships
Bill Russell with fellow legends Jim Brown and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar during the famous press conference to defend Muhammad Ali’s objection to being drafted into the Vietnam War (Image source: YouTube/ESPN)

Bill Russell, the colossus NBA player and civil rights advocate who arguably accomplished as much as any athlete in American history, has died at age 88.

With numbers that still confound his contemporaries in the athletic world, Russell won an unprecedented 11 championships in 13 years with the Boston Celtiics in the 1960s, including the historic distinction of winning a title as a player-coach. Before that at the University of San Francisco, Russell was a two-time All-American, won two straight NCAA championships and led the team to 55 consecutive wins. He also earned a gold medal at the 1956 Olympics.

But Russell may be just as famous for his willingness to speak up multiple times during the apex of the Civil Rights Movement — combined with the racial indignities that he endured in Boston while winning — that made Russell a beloved figure, particularly in the Black community.

“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,” the statement from the Russell family reads on Twitter.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver concurred with the family’s sentiments as he called Russell the “greatest champion in all of team sports” who “stood for something bigger than sports.”

Following the news of Russell’s death, a plethora of upper echelon NBA players and sports dignitaries paid homage to an incomparable and unsurpassable American athlete.

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