Bill Russell: NBA legend and civil rights activist Bill Russell dies at 88

“It is with a very heavy heart that we would like to convey this to all of Bill’s friends, fans and followers,” the statement said.

“Bill Russell, the most prolific winner in American sports history, passed away peacefully today at the age of 88 with his wife Janine by his side. His memorial service will be announced soon.”

In addition to his sporting accomplishments, Russell was one of the leading civil rights activists in sports and marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. when he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. He also supported the iconic boxer Muhammad Ali objected to military service.
Former US President Barack Obama went to social networks praise Russell’s contributions to both basketball and society.

“Today we lost a giant. As tall as Bill Russell is, his legacy rises so much higher, both as a player and as a person,” he said.

“Perhaps more than anyone else, Bill knew what it takes to win and what it takes to be a leader. On the court, he was the greatest champion in basketball history. King and standing with Muhammad Ali.

“For decades, Bill has endured abuse and vandalism, but that has never stopped him from speaking up about what is right. I learned so much from the way he played, the way he coached and the way he lived his life. Michelle and I send our love to Bill’s family and all who admired him.”

Russell throws the ball into the Philadelphia 76ers' goal in Boston Garden.

Russell won 11 championships with the Celtics, including eight in a row from 1959 to 1966. He was a five-time NBA MVP and a 12-time All-Star.

As coach of the Celtics, he led Boston to two titles, becoming the first black head coach to win an NBA championship.

“The two state championships that Bill won in high school were a glimpse of an incomparable string of pure team accomplishments: two-time NCAA champion, captain of the gold-medal-winning U.S. Olympic team, 11-time NBA champion, and at the helm of two NBA championships as the first black head coach of any North American professional sports team,” the family said in a statement.

“Along the way, Bill received a number of individual awards that are unprecedented because he didn’t mention them. In 2009, the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award was renamed in honor of the two-time Hall of Famer to the Bill Russell NBA Finals. Most Valuable Player Award.

“Bill’s wife, Janine, and his many friends and family thank you for supporting Bill in your prayers. Perhaps you will relive one or two of the golden moments he gave us, or remember his trademark laugh when he happily explained the real story. how those moments unfolded. And we hope that each of us can find a new way to act or speak with an uncompromising, dignified and always constructive commitment to the principles of the Bill. This will be the last and enduring victory for our beloved No. 6.”

Celtics made a statement praising Russell and his contribution to both the team and the sport in general.

“Being the greatest champion in your sport, revolutionizing the way you play and becoming a community leader at the same time seems unthinkable, but that’s exactly what Bill Russell was,” the statement said.

“Bill Russell’s DNA permeates every element of the Celtics organization, from a relentless pursuit of excellence, to celebrating team honors rather than personal glory, to a commitment to social justice and civil rights off the court. Our thoughts are with his family. as we mourn his passing and celebrate his vast legacy in basketball, Boston and beyond.”

Fellow NBA legend Michael Jordan, considered by many to be the greatest basketball player of all time, said, “Bill Russell was a pioneer—as a player, as a champion, as the NBA’s first black head coach, and as an activist. He paved the way and set an example for every black player who came into the league after him, including me. The world has lost a legend. My condolences to his family and may he rest in peace.”

NBA commissioner Adam Silver also shared his condolences.

“Bill Russell was the greatest champion in all team sports,” Silver said in a statement. “The countless accolades he has received during his storied career with the Boston Celtics, including a record-breaking 11 championships and five MVP awards, are just beginning to tell the story of Bill’s tremendous impact on our league and society at large.

“Bill championed something much more than sports: the values ​​of equality, respect and inclusion, which he imprinted into the DNA of our league. At the height of his athletic career, Bill was a strong civil rights and social justice advocate, a legacy that was passed on to generations of NBA players who followed in his footsteps. Through ridicule, threats and unimaginable adversity, Bill has risen above it all and remained true to his belief that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity.”

CNN’s Homero de la Fuente contributed to this report.