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

“It is with very heavy hearts that we would like to pass on to all of Bill’s friends, fans and subscribers,” the statement read.

“Bill Russell, the most prolific winner in American sports history, died peacefully today at the age of 88, with his wife, Jeannine, by his side. Arrangements for his memorial service will be announced soon. .”

In addition to his athletic accomplishments, Russell was one of the sport’s foremost civil rights activists and marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. when he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. He also supported the iconic boxer Mohamed Ali in his opposition to being drafted into military service.
Former US President Barack Obama took to social media to praise Russell’s contribution to basketball and society.

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

“Perhaps more than anyone, Bill knew what it took to win and what it took to lead. On the court, he was the greatest champion in basketball history. Other than that, he was a civil rights pioneer – walking with Dr. King and standing with Muhammad Ali.

“For decades Bill endured insults and vandalism, but that never stopped him from standing up for what is right. I learned so much from the way he played, the way he coached and of how he lived his life. Michelle and I send our love to Bill’s family and all who looked up to him.”

Russell shooting the ball against the Philadelphia 76ers in the 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 Celtics coach, he led Boston to two titles, becoming the first black head coach to win an NBA championship.

“Bill’s two state championships in high school offered a glimmer of the unparalleled string of team accomplishments to come: two-time NCAA champion; captain of a gold-medal-winning U.S. Olympic team; 11-time NBA champion; and at the helm for two NBA championships as the first black head coach of any North American professional sports team,” the family statement continued.

“Along the way, Bill has won an unprecedented series of individual awards as he hasn’t been mentioned by him. In 2009, the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player award was renamed after Hall twice of Famer as the ‘Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award.’

“Bill’s wife, Jeannine, and his many friends and family thank you for keeping Bill in your prayers. Perhaps you will relive one or two of the golden moments he gave us, or you will remember of his signature laugh as he reveled in explaining the real story behind how those moments unfolded. And we hope that each of us can find a new way to act or speak with the uncompromising commitment, worthy and always constructive of Bill towards principles. This would be a final and lasting victory for our beloved #6.”

The Celtics released a statement praising Russell and his contribution to both the team and the sport as a whole.

“Being the greatest champion of your sport, revolutionizing the way the game is played and being a leader of society all at once seems unthinkable, but that’s what Bill Russell was,” the statement read.

“Bill Russell’s DNA is woven through every element of the Celtics organization, from the relentless pursuit of excellence, to the celebration of team awards over individual 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 tremendous legacy in basketball, Boston and beyond.”

NBA legend Michael Jordan, widely regarded as the greatest basketball player of all time, said: “Bill Russell was a trailblazer – as a player, as a champion, as the first black head coach of the NBA and as an activist. He paved the way and set an example for all black players who entered 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 of all team sports,” Silver said in a statement. “The countless accolades he won for his storied career with the Boston Celtics – including a record 11 championships and five MVP awards – only begin to tell of Bill’s immense impact on our league and society in general.

“Bill represented something much bigger than sport: the values ​​of equality, respect and inclusion that he inscribed in our league’s DNA. At the height of his sporting career, Bill was a strong advocate civil rights and social justice, a legacy he passed on to generations of NBA players who followed in his footsteps.Through taunts, threats and unthinkable adversity, Bill rose 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.