Skip to content

NBA legend Bill Russell dies at 88

He will have marked the history of sport. American basketball legend Bill Russell, an eleven-time NBA champion with the Celtics, died Sunday at age 88, his family announced on his Twitter account.

“Bill Russell, the most prolific winner in American sports history, passed away peacefully today at the age of 88, with his wife Jeannine at his bedside,” said the family of the man who died. considered one of the greatest players in basketball history.

Five-time winner of the NBA Most Valuable Player trophy and twelve-time All Star Game selection, Bill Russell is the most decorated player in NBA history. He marked the history of the Boston Celtics team for which he played from 1956 to 1969.

“Being the greatest champion in his sport, revolutionizing the way the game is played and being a leader of society all at once seems unthinkable, but that’s what Bill Russell was,” the Massachusetts franchise tweeted.

Russell was champion eleven times with the Celtics, a record that still stands, including eight in a row from 1959 to 1966, and the last two times as a player-coach. He was the first black American named at the head of a franchise of an American professional sport and the first to be crowned, from his second year (1967).

Unstoppable Defense

If he was a player with honorable offensive talent (15.1 points on average per game), it was his defense that made his glory. Endowed with a beautiful trigger, he propelled his 208 cm, exceptional size for the time, to a phenomenal height which intimidated all his rivals for thirteen seasons. “The idea was not to counter all their shots, but to convince them that each of them could be,” he explained in a documentary produced by the NBA.

On the field, Russell was an example of selflessness. With his innumerable blocks, literally since the NBA did not count them until 1973, and his rebounds (21,620, the second total in history), he was the launching pad for the Celtics’ fast game, led by players like Bob Cousy and John Havlicek.

His great rival was the Philadelphia player Wilt Chamberlain, another giant (2.16 m) in the history of basketball, who often stole the limelight from him in the media but with whom he got along very well outside the games. In the end, the individual records were for Chamberlain (that of 100 points in the same match!) and the collective successes for Russell (eleven titles to two).

Bill Russell involved himself with such intensity in his sport that he almost made himself ill. He vomited before each meeting. His will to win was fierce. “I always wear black suits because I come to bury my opponents,” said the five-time MVP.

civil rights defender

Born in 1934 in Louisiana, in a Deep South still living under racial discrimination, before moving with his family to California in the 1940s, Russell was not the first black to play in the NBA, but he was the first african american basketball superstar.

He used his notoriety to advance the cause of civil rights. In 1967, he appeared alongside another NBA legend, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, American football star Jim Brown and Muhammad Ali at the “Cleveland Summit” where he supported the boxer, sued by the courts for refusing to join the army.

In 1963, he participated in Martin Luther King’s March on Washington, but he refused to be promoted. Because Russell had a singular character, introverted and sometimes considered inaccessible, even arrogant, in particular because he did not willingly sign autographs. It was above all his ardent stand against racism, including in favor of the leader Malcolm X, which earned him the animosity and even the hatred of some: his house in Boston was one day ransacked and soiled with excrement.

On Twitter, former US President Barack Obama paid tribute to a “giant”, both on the ground and when it came to defending civil rights. “He approached everything he did with determination, principle and wisdom,” says Bill Clinton.

“Bill Russell was my idol,” added Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who also praised the commitment of the deceased. “Bill stood for something much bigger than sport: the values ​​of equality, respect and inclusion that he inscribed in the DNA of our league, reacted Adam Silver, the boss of the NBA. At the height of his athletic career, Bill vigorously championed civil rights and social justice, a legacy he passed on to generations of NBA players who followed in his footsteps. »

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.