NBA champ and Celtics legend Bill Russell dies at 88

·1 min read
Bill Russell in 2019.
Bill Russell in 2019. Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Bill Russell, the Boston Celtics legend who won 11 NBA titles — including two as player-coach — and was pro basketball's first Black head coach, died on Sunday. He was 88.

In a statement, Russell's family said his wife, Jeannine, was by his side, and thanked fans for "keeping Bill in your prayers." They added it was their "hope each of us can find a new way to act or speak up with Bill's uncompromising, dignified, and always constructive commitment to principle. That would be one last, and lasting, win for our beloved #6."

The 6-foot-10 center had a prolific career that began in college, when he led the University of San Francisco's basketball team to NCAA titles in 1955 and 1956. He won gold with Team USA at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, and played with the Celtics from 1956 to 1969. He was a five-time Most Valuable Player and 12-time All-Star, and in 1980, basketball writers voted him the greatest player in NBA history. In 2011, former President Barack Obama awarded him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Russell was a civil rights activist who attended the March on Washington in 1963 and supported Muhammad Ali when he refused the Vietnam War draft. "Bill stood for something much bigger than sports: The values of equality, respect, and inclusion that he stamped into the DNA of our league," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. "At the height of his athletic career, Bill advocated vigorously for civil rights and social justice, a legacy he passed down to generations of NBA players who followed in his footsteps."

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