Bill Russell, NBA Champion & Civil Rights Activist Dies At 88

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Sunday, July 31, 2022

Bill Russell, NBA Champion & Civil Rights Activist Dies At 88
Statement By Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.
Sunday, July 31, 2022

Eleven-time NBA Champion, including two as Head Coach of the Boston Celtics, Bill Russell, died today at age 88. Before Michael Jordan and LeBron James, Bill Russell was considered by most players and voted by basketball writers as the greatest player in the history of the NBA. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family as they mourn his loss.

Bill Russell changed the game of professional basketball with his defense and rebounding talent. At 6’10” and 220 pounds his quickness and jumping ability gave him a unique talent as a shot blocker and a rebounder that triggered Boston’s fast break. Bill Bradley, a New York Knick opponent, and a Rhodes scholar himself, called Russell the smartest and greatest team player in the NBA. He didn’t have much of an offensive game, scoring in and around the basket with short hook shots, but he did end up with 14,522 points and a 15.1 points per game average, but it was his defense and rebounding (51 rebounds in one game) that set Bill Russell apart from other players. He finished his career second to Wilt Chamberlain in rebounding with 21,620, an average of 22.5 per game.

Bill Russell was born in Louisiana and was subjected to all the humiliation of living in the segregated south. His family moved to Oakland, California at age 9. He won a basketball scholarship to the University of San Francisco, winning two national NCAA championships as an All American alongside his future Boston teammate K.C. Jones.

As a Boston Celtic he competed in 13 NBA Championship games, winning 11. He won an Olympic Gold Medal and was selected an NBA All Star 12 times in his 13-year career and was elected to the NBA’s Hall of Fame.

He was the first black coach of an American professional team and won two NBA Championships as a player-coach. President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011, the nation’s highest civilian award.

As a civil rights activist he stood by Muhammad Ali when he resisted being inducted into the Vietnam War and fought racism in Boston, was in the front room of Dr. King’s August 28, 1963, speech, went to Mississippi after Medgar Evers was murdered and fought racism wherever he found it in a variety of ways.

He also became an NBA broadcaster providing color commentary for the games. He always presented him as his own man, dignified and defiant of racism wherever he found it. His outstanding life, not just his NBA career, made Bill Russell such an icon among American sports heroes. As is often said at the grassroots, “They don’t make‘em like that anymore.

Rainbow PUSH Coalition is a multi-racial, multi-issue, progressive, international organization that was formed in December 1996 by the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. through merging of two organizations he founded Operation PUSH People United to Serve Humanity (estab. 1971) and the Rainbow Coalition (estab. 1984). With headquarters in Chicago and offices in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New York and Oakland, the organization works to make the American Dream a reality for all citizens while advocating for peace and justice around the world. RPC is dedicated to improving the lives of all people by serving as a voice for the voiceless. Its mission is to protect, defend and gain civil rights by leveling the economic and educational playing fields while promoting peace and justice around the world.

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