Bill Russell, who led Celtics to 11 championships, dies at 88

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Bill Russell, whose defensive midfield athleticism changed the face of professional basketball and propelled the Boston Celtics to 11 NBA championships, the last two when he became the first black head coach in a major American sports league, died Sunday. He was 88.

His death was announced by his family, who did not say where he died.

When Russell was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975, Red Auerbach, who orchestrated his arrival as Celtic and coached him on nine championship teams, called him “the most devastating force in the history of the game.”

He wasn’t alone in that opinion: In a 1980 poll of basketball writers (long before Michael Jordan and LeBron James came on the scene), Russell was voted nothing short of the greatest player in NBA history.

Russell’s speed and his uncanny ability to block shots transformed the center position, once a place for slow and hulking types. His amazing rebound caused a Celtic fast break that overwhelmed the rest of the NBA

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Former Senator Bill Bradley, who confronted Russell with the Knicks in the 1960s, considered him “the smartest player to ever play the game and the epitome of a team leader.”

“At his core, Russell knew he was different from other players — that he was an innovator and that his identity depended on dominating the game,” Bradley wrote, reviewing Russell’s memories of Auerbach in “Red and Me: My Coach.” , My Lifelong Friend” (2009) for The New York Times.

In the decades following Russell’s retirement in 1969, when flashy moves delighted fans and team play was often an afterthought, his stature became even more polished, remembered for his ability to enhance the talents of his teammates even as he dominated the action. and to do it without bravado: he despised dunks or gestures to celebrate his achievements.

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In those later years, his signature goatee now turned white, Russell reappeared on the field in the spring, presenting the NBA championship series’ most valuable player with the trophy named after him in 2009.

Russell was also remembered for his visibility on civil rights issues.

He participated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963 and sat in the front row of the crowd to see Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. hear his “I Have a Dream” speech. He went to Mississippi after civil rights activist Medgar Evers was murdered and teamed up with Evers’ brother, Charles, to open an integrated basketball camp in Jackson. He was among a group of prominent black athletes who supported Muhammad Ali when Ali refused to enlist in the armed forces during the Vietnam War.

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In 2011, President Barack Obama awarded Russell the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, at the White House, honoring him as “one who stood up for the rights and dignity of all people.”

In September 2017, following President Donald J. Trump’s call for NFL owners to fire players who kneeled during the national anthem to protest racial injustice, Russell posted a photo on Twitter of him posing kneeling while held the medal.

“What I wanted was to let those guys know that I support them,” he told ESPN.

A full obituary will be published shortly.

Bill Russell, who led Celtics to 11 championships, dies aged 88 appeared first on New York Times.

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