NBA basketball icon Bill Russell has died at the age of 88, his family have announced.
Russell was one of the most successful American sports stars of all time, winning 11 NBA championships with the Celtics, and going on to be the first black head coach of any US professional team.
Russell’s cause of death has yet to be revealed.
His family announced his death in a touching statement posted to Twitter.
It read: “Bill Russell, the most prolific winner in American sports history, passed away peacefully today at age 88, with his wife, Jeannine, by his side.”
“Bills two state championships in high school offered a glimmer of the incomparable run of pure team accomplishment to come:
“twice an NCAA champion; captain of a gold-medal-winning US Olympic team; 11 times an NBA champion; and at the helm for two NBA championships as the first black head coach of any North American professional sports team.
“Along the way, Bill earned a string of individual awards that stands unprecedented as it went unmentioned by him.”
Russell played center for the Boston Celtics from 1956 until 1969, and was player-coach there from 1966 to 1969.
He then had stints as head coach at the Seattle SuperSonics from 1973 to 1977, and the Sacramento Kings from 1987 to 1988.
Former Celtics coach, Red Auerbach, called Russell “the single most devastating force in the history of the game” when he was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975.
But he was also a towering figure away from the basketball court.
His family’s statement continues: “But for all the winning, Bill’s understanding of the struggle is what illuminated his life.
“From boycotting a 1961 exhibition game to unmask too-long-tolerated discrimination, to leading Mississippi’s first integrated basketball camp in the combustible wake of Medgar Evans’ assassination,”
They went on: “to decades of activism ultimately recognized by his receipt of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010, Bill called out injustice with an unforgiving candor that he intended would disrupt the status quo,
“And with a powerful example that, though never his humble intention, will forever inspire teamwork, selflessness and thoughtful change.”
Russell had not even attended the Basketball Hall of Fame ceremony when he won because he felt other black players should’ve gotten the award before him.
In 2019 he tweeted: “I felt others before me should have had that honor. Good to see progress,” after privately accepting the Hall of Fame ring.
“Bill’s wife, Jeannine, and his many friends and family thank you for keeping Bill in your prayers.
“Perhaps you’ll relive one or two of the golden moments he gave us, or recall his trademark laugh as he delighted in explaining the real story behind how those moments unfolded,” they said.
“And we hope each of us can find a new way to act or speak up with Bill’s uncompromising, dignified and always constructive commitment to principle.
The family ended by saying: “That would be one last, and lasting, win for our beloved #6,.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver also released a statement on Russell’s passing.
“Bill Russell was the greatest champion in all of team sports,” he wrote.
“I cherished my friendship with Bill and was thrilled when he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.”
“We send our deepest condolences to his wife, Jeannine, his family and his many friends.”