Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Obama remember Bill Russell

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Bill Russell, the NBA’s greatest ever player and its first black coach, died Sunday at age 88, leading those inside and outside the basketball community to remember his legendary career, her civil rights activism, her graceful personality and her distinctive laugh.

The Boston Celtics center, who was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as a player and coach, won a record 11 titles during a playing career that spanned from 1956 to 1969, in addition five MVP awards. In recognition of his dominance, the NBA named its Finals MVP award in his honor. Beyond the hardwood, Russell was a strong advocate for civil rights, winning President Barack Obama’s Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

“Bill represented something much bigger than sports: the values ​​of equality, respect and inclusion that he inscribed in our league’s DNA,” said NBA commissioner Adam Silver. in a press release. “At the peak of his athletic career, Bill was a strong advocate for civil rights and social justice, a legacy he passed on to generations of NBA players who followed in his footsteps. unthinkable adversity, Bill overcame it all and remained true to his belief that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity.

“I often called him Babe Ruth of basketball for how he transcended time. Bill was the ultimate winner and an accomplished teammate, and his influence on the NBA will be felt forever.

Bill Russell, basketball great who worked for civil rights, dies at 88

In a 2021 speech, Obama noted how Russell’s legacy extended beyond sports, recounting the boycott of a game by the Celtics in 1961 after a cafe in Kentucky refused to serve black players. . Obama called it “an act of civil disobedience that still resonates to this day.”

“As great as Bill Russell is, his legacy soars much higher – both as a player and as a person,” Obama said on Sunday. “He was a civil rights pioneer – marching with Dr King and standing alongside 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 the way he lived his life.

On the court, Russell’s 11 rings as a player – a standard that has never been approached in the modern era – has earned him special respect among the game’s greats.

Michael Jordan, who won six titles with the Chicago Bulls and is currently the NBA’s only black primary owner, says that Russell was a “pioneer” who “paved the way and set an example for all black players who came into the league after him, including me”.

Los Angeles Lakers icon Magic Johnson, a five-time champion, said he was “heartbroken to hear about the passing of the greatest winner basketball has ever seen, a legend, Hall of Famer, mentor and friend of mine for over 30 years.

Russell’s passing prompted tributes from the Celtics, who posted an image with his jersey number No. 6 under 11 clubs, to represent his 11 titles as a player, and above two additional clubs, to represent his two titles as a coach. Longtime Boston Globe writer Bob Ryan noted that Russell was a perfect 21-0 in his career in “win-win games”, spanning his NCAA career at the University of San Francisco, where he won two titles; the 1956 Olympics, where he won a gold medal; and with the Celtics, where he was a perfect 10-0 in Game 7.

“Thank [you] to set the bar, to [your] kind words of wisdom,” Celtics legend Paul Pierce wrote. “Thank [you] for that big laugh [you] had. I can talk all day about this [you] meant to me.

Jaylen Brown, a Celtics forward who led a protest march in Atlanta following the death of George Floyd, added“Thank you for leading the way and inspiring so many people. Today is a sad day but also a great day to celebrate his legacy and what he stood for.

Although Russell retired as a coach in 1988, he remained a fixture at NBA events, including his annual Finals MVP trophy presentation, and he seemed to relish his role as a former man. of state of the league. In 2017, Russell received a lifetime achievement award and took to the stage alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo.

Russell, leaning on a cane for support, took turns pointing at each of the five crosses, before declaring, “I’ll kick you–.”

Such jokes were usually accompanied by what Jack McCallum, a longtime Sports Illustrated writer, called Russell’s “famous cackling.” In a 1987 feature, McCallum wrote how Russell would “throw his head back” and “open his mouth” before unleashing his belly laugh. There was a mischievous side to the icon, who also enjoyed throwing the bird at fellow basketball players in hopes of making them laugh.

In dark times, Russell’s gravity had a healing quality. When Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, were among the victims of a tragic helicopter crash in 2020, Russell attended a game between the Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. Despite the franchise’s longstanding rivalry, Russell made a point of wearing Bryant’s Lakers No. 24 jersey as he sat courtside at Staples Center.

“I would do anything to honor Kobe and Gianna. I’m still Celtic. We had a deeper connection: 2+4 done = 6,” Russell explained, referring to his own jersey number. “We had a lot of love and respect for each other!”

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