“It is with a very heavy heart that we would like to inform all of Bill’s friends, fans and followers,” the statement said. “Bill Russell, the greatest winner in American sports history, passed away peacefully today at the age of 88 with his wife Jeanine by his side. Funeral arrangements will be announced soon.
“Bill’s two state championships in high school provided a glimmer of an unparalleled run of pure team accomplishments to come: two-time NCAA champion; captain of the gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic team; 11-time NBA champion; and two at the helm as the first black head coach of any North American professional sports team. NBA championships.
“Along the way, Bill received an unprecedented number of individual awards that went unmentioned by him. In 2009, the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award was renamed the ‘Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award’ after the two-time Hall of Famer.’
“To Bill’s wife Jeanine and his many friends and family, thank you for keeping Bill in your prayers. Perhaps you’ll relive one or two of the precious moments he gave us, or his trademark laugh as he happily explained the true story. Behind how those moments unfolded, each of us remembers Bill’s uncompromising spirit. , we hope that we can find a new way to act or speak with dignity and a constructive commitment to principle. That will be the last and lasting end for our beloved #6.”
Russell won 11 championships with the Celtics, including eight from 1959 to 1966. He was a five-time NBA MVP and a 12-time All-Star.
As coach of the Celtics, he led Boston to two titles, becoming the first black head coach to win an NBA championship.
“It’s hard to imagine being the greatest champion of your sport, revolutionizing the way the game is played, and being a social leader all at the same time, but Phil Russell is,” the statement read.
“Bill Russell’s DNA is woven through every element of the Celtics organization, from his relentless pursuit of excellence, to celebrating team rewards over individual pride, to his commitment to social justice and civil rights off the court. Our thoughts are with his family. We mourn his passing and wish him well in basketball, Boston and beyond. Celebrating a great tradition.”
Fellow NBA legend Michael Jordan — widely regarded as the greatest basketball player of all time — said, “Bill Russell was a pioneer — a player, a champion, the NBA’s first black head coach and an activist. He paved the way for every black player who came after him in the league, including me. A pioneer and role model. The world has lost a legend. My condolences to his family and may he rest in peace.”
“For decades, Bill endured insults and vandalism, but that never stopped him from speaking the right thing. I learned a lot from the way he played, the way he coached and the way he lived. Michael and I send our love to Bill’s family and everyone who admired him.”
“Bill Russell is the greatest champion in all of team sports,” Silver said in a statement. “The countless accolades he received during his storied career with the Boston Celtics — including a record 11 championships and five MVP awards — only begin to tell the story of Bill’s tremendous impact on our league and the wider community.
Bill represents something much bigger than sports: the values of equality, respect and inclusion he stamped into our league’s DNA. At the height of his athletic career, Bill actively advocated for civil rights and social justice. Through taunts, threats, and unimaginable suffering to generations of NBA players who followed in his footsteps, Bill rose above it all and stayed true to his belief that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity.”
CNN’s Homer Fountain contributed to this report.