Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and others react to Bill Russell’s legacy

Bill Russell had more NBA championship rings than fingers and as many Most Valuable Player awards as all other Boston Celtics players combined.

But hours after Russell’s family announced his death on Sunday, NBA players remembered him much more.

Legend. Pioneer. “Everything we all aspired to,” said Isaiah Thomas, Hall of Famer point guard for the Detroit Pistons. in the message on Twitter.

Russell, 88, played 13 seasons with the Celtics in the 1950s and 1960s, including three seasons as a player-coach. He was the first black coach in the NBA and was known for his civil rights activism during and after game days. He is still known in the NBA as a fan, mentor and symbol of greatness. The Finals MVP trophy is named after him, and he often attended games wearing a purple hat with the initials of one of his favorite players, Los Angeles Lakers defenseman Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash in 2020.

On Sunday, basketball players of different generations greeted him.

Since the 1980s there has been Thomas and another Hall of Famer point guard, Magic Johnson of the Lakers.

“Bill Russell was my idol. Johnson announced this on Twitter.citing Russell’s basketball talent and his position on the “front line of social justice”.

He continued: “Despite all his accomplishments, he was such a humble, gentle giant, a very intelligent man, and used his voice and platform to fight for black people.”

Michael Jordan, who dominated the 1990s with the Chicago Bulls, said in a statement that Russell was a “trailblazer.”

“He paved the way and set an example for every black player who came into the league after him, including me,” Jordan said. “The world has lost a legend.”

Notable players in the 2000s also spoke of Russell with awe and warmth, a testament to the Celtics icon’s enduring influence in the league.

“I could talk all day about what you mean to me,” said Celtics Hall of Famer Paul Pierce. said on twitter.

Pierce, too, called Russell a “discoverer” and a “pioneer”. He also mentioned his “great laugh” and shared a picture Russell talking to Pierce and other NBA players. “I will never forget the day we were like kids sitting around a campfire listening to your stories,” Pierce wrote.

Pau Gasol, whose Lakers faced Pierce twice in the Finals, shared a picture tweeted about himself with Russell, calling him “one of the most dominant players in @NBA history.”

“It will always be an honor to meet you,” he said.

Players of the 2010s and present have also pointed to Russell’s humor, activity, and basketball skills.

Noting on Twitter that there was no three-point line or social media during Russell’s heyday, Celtics guard Marcus Smart posted a list or Russell’s accomplishments.

“Just played and dominated the day and the league was definitely not soft,” Smart said.

Smart teammate Jaylen Brown shared a photo or Russell with Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jim Brown in 1967, when a group of black athletes showed support for Ali’s refusal to participate in the Vietnam War.

Russell Challengeone of the greatest athletes,” Brown said: “Thank you for leading the way and inspiring so many. Today is a sad day, but also a great day to celebrate his legacy and what he stood for.”

In recent years, NBA players, including Brown, have more prominently continued Russell’s civil rights legacy. Phoenix Suns defenseman Chris Paul, who was president of the players union during its social justice efforts following the killing of George Floyd in 2020, also wrote about Russell on twitter on Sunday.

“No self apologies ever!! Absolute leader and one of the best hoopers ever! RIP Mr. Russell you will be sorely missed,” he wrote.