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Basketball Player Bill Russell Dies July 31, 2022

Published by: Carolyn Brooks Fleming on Aug 2, 2022.

Basketball great Bill Russell died on July 31, 2022. He was 88.

Russell was born in 1934, in Monroe, Louisiana, which was racially segregated at the time. His father was threatened for objecting to the common practice of serving whites before blacks, and his mother was nearly arrested for wearing clothes considered too elegant for a black woman.

By the time Russell was high-school age, his family had moved to Oakland, California. He was a top player on both his high school and University of San Francisco basketball teams. In 1956, he represented the US at the Melbourne Olympics, where his team took the gold.

Also in 1956, the 6-foot-9 center was signed by the Boston Celtics. Sadly, despite his superior performance on the court, he faced racially motivated threats and vandalism during his years with the Celtics. In 13 years, he helped the team win 55 consecutive games and 11 championships, and he also served as a player coach. Because of the hostile treatment he encountered in Boston, he once said, “I have very little faith in cheers.” He chose not to attend the 1975 ceremony when he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

After leaving the Celtics, Russell coached the Seattle SuperSonics and the Sacramento Kings, and he also provided color commentary for televised basketball games.

Russell was a five-time MVP and 12-time All-Star, and he was the first black man to serve as head coach — across all pro sports.

Russell was regarded as one of the best NBA players of all time and a strong advocate for civil rights. As such, he received many awards: in 2009, the NBA Finals MVP trophy was renamed in Russel’s honor; in 2011, President Barack Obama presented Russell with the Presidential Medal of Freedom; and in 2017, the NBA gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Despite growing up in the Jim Crow era and facing prejudice throughout his life, Bill Russell conducted himself with dignity. He said, “What I ascribed to do, and I did quite well, is every time I came into an adversarial situation, I decided to take control of it so that if a guy came up to me and tried to give me a bad day, I made sure that he was the one who left with the bad day. And so to do this took thought, planning and discretion and intelligence. That was the way I conducted my life.”

Bill Russell is survived by his wife, Jeannine, following a long illness.

Learn more about him in his own words.

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SOURCES

Botkin, Brad. “Bill Russell dies at 88: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, more react to death of Boston Celtics icon.” CBS, August 1, 2022, https://www.cbssports.com/nba/news/bill-russell-dies-at-88-kareem-abdul-jabbar-michael-jordan-more-react-to-death-of-boston-celtics-icon/.

ESPN News Services. “Boston Celtics great Bill Russell, 11-time NBA champion, dies at 88.” ESPN, July 31, 2022, https://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/34323568/boston-celtics-great-bill-russell-11-nba-champion-dies-88.

Joseph, Peniel E. “Opinion: Boston's checkered history with its greatest sports icon.” CNN, August 1, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/08/01/opinions/bill-russell-basketball-nba-boston-racism-joseph/index.html.


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