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Bill Russell remembered as ‘greatest winner’ in basketball, champion for civil rights

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Bill Russell’s death led to a tremendous outpouring of condolences from the NBA world on Sunday.

Russell’s family announced the legendary NBA center died at 88. He passed away peacefully with his wife by his side, a statement read. He played his entire career with the Boston Celtics and coached for them as well. He was also the head coach of the Seattle SuperSonics and Sacramento Kings.

During his illustrious career, Russell was a 12-time All-star, 11-time NBA champion, five-time MVP and an 11-time All-NBA selection.

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A member of the Boston Celtics 1966 championship team, Bill Russell is honored at halftime of the game between the Celtics and the Miami Heat at TD Garden, April 13, 2016, in Boston, Massachusetts.

A member of the Boston Celtics 1966 championship team, Bill Russell is honored at halftime of the game between the Celtics and the Miami Heat at TD Garden, April 13, 2016, in Boston, Massachusetts.
(Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

Russell was a leader in the civil rights movement as well, launching a boycott in 1961 when he and two of his Black teammates were refused service at a Kentucky restaurant; and supporting Muhammad Ali in his decision to avoid the draft for the Vietnam War.

His legacy on and off the basketball court was remembered by those in the NBA world. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and Magic Johnson were among those who led tributes.

Rick Barry told Fox News Digital he was “sad” to hear about Russell’s death.

“Sad to lose a friend, fellow broadcaster and one of the greatest NBA players of all time, especially on defense,” Barry said. “Winning 11 championships in 13 years was a remarkable accomplishment and will probably never be done again.”

Former President Barack Obama also released a statement.

“As tall as Bill Russell stood, his legacy rises far higher—both as a player and as a person,” he said.

“Perhaps more than anyone else, Bill knew what it took to win and what it took to lead. On the court, he was the greatest champion in basketball history. Off of it, he was a civil rights trailblazer—marching with Dr. King and standing with Muhammad Ali.

“For decades, Bill endured insults and vandalism, but never let it stop him from speaking up for what’s right. I learned so much from the way he played, the way he coached, and the way he lived his life. Michelle and I send our love to Bill’s family, and everyone who admired him.”

Russell was the No. 2 overall pick of the St. Louis Hawks in the 1956 draft. He was picked behind Si Green, who was chosen by the Rochester Royals, and in front of Jim Paxson Sr., who was selected by the Minneapolis Lakers. Russell would go on to score more points than both players combined.

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Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics is shown in 1968.

Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics is shown in 1968.
(AP Photo)

At San Francisco, Russell helped the Dons win two consecutive NCAA titles in 1955 and 1956. He also led Team USA to a gold medal at the 1956 Olympics.

Russell was traded to the Hawks on draft day for Cliff Hagan and Ed Macauley. He would continue his dominance in the pros, leading Boston to 11 championships, including a run of eight straight. He led the NBA in rebounds five times and is only one of two players to record at least 50 rebounds in a game.

Bill Russell smiles following the announcement that he had been named coach of the Boston Celtics on April 18, 1966.

Bill Russell smiles following the announcement that he had been named coach of the Boston Celtics on April 18, 1966.
(AP Photo, File)

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Russell was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame twice — once as a player and another time as a coach. His No. 6 is retired by the Celtics, and he is the namesake for the NBA Finals MVP award.

Fox News’ Larry Fink contributed to this report. 



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