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He is regarded as the ultimate winner. He won 11 NBA titles in a 13-year span, including eight in a row from 1959 to ’66. He holds the NBA Finals records for championships, appearances, game played, rebounds and minutes. He also won two NCAA titles at the University of San Francisco and a gold medal in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Russell’s 11 pro championships are tied, with Henri Richard, who played for the Montreal Canadiens, for the most by any athlete in NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL history.
Russell was also a powerful civil rights leader. In 1961, he led a player protest when Celtics players were denied service in a Lexington, Kentucky, restaurant. In 1963, along with Martin Luther King Jr., Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Russell stood with boxer Muhammad Ali, who refused to be drafted into the Vietnam War. In 2017, Russell publicly supported athletes protesting during the national anthem.
“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,” his family’s statement read on Sunday.
The sports world joined together to mourn and honor Russell:
Celtics past and present
Elsewhere in Boston, the city’s mayor, Michelle Wu, and the Red Sox paid tribute.
Around the NBA
Russell was beloved by NBA players, and his championship legacy towers over the sport. The NBA Finals MVP award is named after Russell.
“If I had a choice of any basketball player in the league,” former Lakers guard, and NBA executive, Jerry West said after losing to the Celtics in the 1968 Finals, “my No.1 choice has to be Bill Russell. Bill Russell never ceases to amaze me.”
Outside of sports
Russell was awarded the Medal of Freedom by former President Barack Obama in 2011, the nation’s highest civilian honor. He also continued to support athletes protesting. In 2020, he supported NBA players who were protesting police shootings of George Floyd and Jacob Blake.