NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell died on Sunday, his family announced in a statement. He was 88 years old. Russell, and 11-time NBA champion with the Boston Celtics, died “peacefully” with his wife Jeannine at his side. No cause of death was mentioned.
Beginning with his junior year at University of San Francisco, Russell won two straight NCAA championships, leading the team to 55 consecutive wins and was twice named an All-American. He also won a gold medal at the 1956 Olympics in Mebourne, and that same year he was drafted to the Celtics where he carried the team to 12 NBA Finals appearances and 11 championships from 1959 to ’66, while also being named league MVP five times in 13 years. He also was a 12-time All-Star, including MVP in 1963.
Russell was also the first Black head coach of any North American professional sports team when he was named the Celtics coach in 1966, leading the team to two championships. He coached the Celtics from 1956-69 then the Seattle SuperSonics from 1973-77 and the Sacramento Kings from 1987-88. His coaching record was 341-290.
Russell was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975, and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. The NBA Finals MVP award is named in his honor.
In a statement on Sunday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver praised Russell as “the greatest champion in all of team sports…I cherished my friendship with Bill and was thrilled when he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. I often called him basketball’s Babe Ruth for how he transcended time. Bill was the ultimate winner and consummate teammate, and his influence on the NBA will be felt forever. We send our deepest condolences to his wife, Jeannine, his family and his many friends.”
The Celtics wrote on Twitter that Russell was “a champion unlike any other in the history of team sports…Bill Russell’s DNA is woven through every element of the Celtics organization, from the relentless pursuit of excellence, to the celebration of team rewards over individual glory, to commitment to social justice and civil rights off the court.”
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