Two high school state championships. Two NCAA championships. Olympic Gold medalist. 11 NBA titles in 13 seasons, with the last two coming as a player-coach (and the first black head coach in NBA history). The greatest champion in the history of North American sports, Bill Russell, has passed away at 88 years old.
Death is almost always sad, but when you look at someone who was 88 years old and accomplished what he did on and off the court, it is truly a time to celebrate the incredible life of William Fenton Russell. There will be plenty of mourning but talk about squeezing everything you can out of the human experience. That's the life and legacy of Bill Russell. He was beloved by millions.
There are the ridiculous stats like 11 championships in 13 seasons, which will never be replicated. Obviously, Russell was a product of his era with only eight teams and fewer playoff rounds, but they'll never be another winner like Russell. 21-0 in elimination games; an absolutely absurd statistic.
Unfortunately, as a product of his era, Russell lived through Jim Crow and unspeakable racism during his lifetime, especially in his playing days. What Russell and millions of other Americans dealt with/are still dealing with today is disgusting. This story from his daughter shines a light on the horrors her father experienced during his playing career.
Because of this, understandably, Russell had a "complicated" relationship with Boston fans for decades. It sucks, but it's part of history, and people need to remember the truth and learn from it. When Russell's #6 was initially retired in 1972, it wasn't done in front of a packed arena, but instead a private ceremony in front of a few former teammates, then C's coach (and former teammate) Tommy Heinsohn, and of course Red Auerbach before a Sunday game against the New York Knicks.
Bill Russell wasn't just a champion, he was basketball royalty and an advocate for social justice and equality. He was a part of the Cleveland Summitt in 1967 to support Muhammad Ali's decision to refuse being drafted into the Vietnam War.
Martin Luther King, Jr. wanted Bill Russell on the stage with him during his "I Have a Dream" speech, but he refused and watched from the audience in fear of upstaging the Reverend.
As a basketball player, until Michael Jordan, many considered Bill Russell the best there ever was. He was an 11 time NBA champion, 5 time MVP, 12 time All-Star, 4 time rebounding leader. Russell's just one of four players to make the NBA's 25th, 35th, 50th and 75th anniversary all-time teams. The NBA Finals MVP award was renamed after him in 2009.
My words cannot do this man justice or give him the respect or praise he deserves, but as a Celtics fan and historian, Bill Russell has a special place in my heart. The KG interview from 08 still tears me up to this day. Russell was a legend in every sense of the word. Hall of Famer. President Medal of Freedom winner. He was an elite basketball player who used his platform to help make a real difference in the world. It's sad that he's gone, but in 88 years this man lived one hell of a life, and he had a great sense of humor. Rest in Peace #6.
The outcrying of love and respect goes well beyond the hardwood. Rest in Peace, Bill Russell.