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Legendary Hall of Fame Basketball Player Passes Away At 88, Was Outspoken For Black America


Not just the sports world, but the world has lost a goat. O July 31, basketball legend and Black America advocate Bill Russell, 88, died.

An 11-time National Basketball Association champion with the Boston Celtics, he was also the first Black head coach. Russell passed away “peacefully,” according to a family statement from his verified Twitter account

“It is with a very heavy heart we would like to pass along to all of Bill’s friends, fans, & followers,” the statement 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. Arrangements for his memorial service will be announced soon.”

Russell was a leader not only in sports but was also an advocate for justice and equality. Russell marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. when he gave his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. He was an outspoken supporter of iconic boxer Muhammad Ali’s opposition to being drafted into military service during the Vietnam War, CNN reported.

He was a standout player in high school and that carried over to his basketball career at the University of San Francisco and into the NBA.  He faced racism all along the way. He spoke about not being served at restaurants and hotel because he was a Black person when on the road. He also endured racial slurs being hurled at him during games.

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Russell led the Celtics to a total of 11 championship titles, before retiring in 1969. He was a five-time NBA MVP and a 12-time All-Star. As a coach for the Celtics, he led Boston to two titles, becoming the first Black head coach to win an NBA championship.

He was known for speaking out and speaking his mind. One of those incidents happened in Kentucky. His refusal to stay and play in a city that would not let the Black players eat at a local restaurant led to the Boston Celtics boycott game.

Russell’s team, the Celtics, was in Lexington, Kentucky, for a game when his teammates Satch Sanders and Sam Jones were refused service at the hotel coffee shop. Another played also tried and he too was turned away. When told Russell he announced to coach Red Auerbach he was leaving, surely not staying to play.

“When I heard that, I called the airline and booked a ticket to leave,” said Russell, who added he knew he just had to get out of that town. Auerbach tried to smooth over the incident by arranging a dinner between the players and the hotel owner. Russell declines. “Who the hell is he,” he asked of the hotel owner. Russell and the other players flew out, abandoning the game.

How Bill Russell’s forgotten protest changed America.

The next day, Russell told reporters, We’ve got to show our disapproval of this treatment or else the status quo will prevail. We have the same rights and privileges as anyone else and deserve to be treated accordingly. I hope we never have to go through this abuse again. But if it happens, we won’t hesitate to take the same course of action,” the Basketball Network reported.

There was an outpouring of memories on social media for Russell.

“To be the greatest champion in your sport, to revolutionize the way the game is played, and to be a societal leader all at once seems unthinkable, but that is who Bill Russell was,” a statement from the Celtics read. “Bill Russell’s DNA is woven through every element of the Celtics organization, from the relentless pursuit of excellence, to the celebration of team rewards over individual glory, to a commitment to social justice and civil rights off the court. Our thoughts are with his family as we mourn his passing and celebrate his enormous legacy in basketball, Boston, and beyond.”

Photo: A fan greets civil rights activist and legendary former basketball player Bill Russell at a Boston Celtics-Philadelphia 76ers game, April 30, 2018, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)

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