Bill Russell, Boston Celtics 11 N.B.A. Championship, whose defensive athleticism at center changed the face
of pro basketball and the final two when he became the first black head coach in a major American sports
league, died Sunday. He was 88.
They did not say where he died, his family announced his death. When Russell was elected to the Basketball
Hall of Fame in 1975, RedAuerbach, who orchestrated his arrival as a Celtic and coached him to nine
championship teams called him "the single most destructive force in the game's history."
He wasn't alone in this view: In a 1980 poll of basketball writers (long before Michael Jordan
and LeBron James entered the scene), Russell was voted no less than the greatest player in the N.B.A. history
Russell's quickness and uncanny ability to block shots have transformed the center position, once a place for
slow and hulking types. His superb rebounding triggered a Celtic fast break that overwhelmed the rest of the
Russell knew he was different from other players — that he was an innovator and that his identity depended
on dominating the game," Bradley wrote in "Red and Me: My Coach, My," reviewing Auerbach's memoir of
Russell for The New York Times. Friends for Life” (2009).
Former Senator Bill Bradley saw him as "the smartest player ever to play the game and the epitome
of a team leader". who faced the Knicks with Russell in the 1960s,
In the decades following Russell's retirement in 1969, when flashy moves delighted fans and team play was often
an afterthought, his stature burned deeper, remembered for his ability to elevate the talents of his teammates
even as he dominated the action, and to do so without bravado. : He disdained dunking or gestures to celebrate
In later years, his signature goatee now white, Russell reappeared on the court in the spring, presenting
the N.B.A.'s Most Valuable Player. Championship Series in 2009 with the trophy to his name.
Russell was also remembered for his visibility on civil rights issues.
He attended the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and sat in the front row of the crowd to
hear the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his "I Have a Dream" speech. After the murder of civil rights
activist Medgar Evers, he moved to Mississippi and worked with Evers' brother Charles to open an integrated
basketball camp in Jackson. He was among the prominent black athletes who supported Muhammad Ali
when Ali refused to be drafted into the armed forces during the Vietnam War.
President Barack Obama presented Russell with the nation's highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal
of Freedom, at the White House in 2011, honoring him as "someone who stood up for the rights and dignity
of all men."
In September 2017, President Donald J. After Trump's call for the N.F.L. to fire owners who kneel during the
national anthem to protest racial injustice, Russell posted a photo on Twitter of himself kneeling while
holding a medal.