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NBA great Bill Russell dies aged 88

Bill Russell won the NBA Championships 11 times with the Celtics; he also won two championships as a player-coach

Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics in 1968 after his death at age 88
Image: Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics in 1968 after his death at age 88

Bill Russell, who won 11 NBA championships during his Hall of Fame career spent with the Boston Celtics, died on Sunday aged 88.

Russell's death was confirmed in a statement posted on his Twitter account that said the 12-time NBA All-Star passed away with his wife by his side.

The statement read:

"It is with a heavy heart we would like to pass along to all of Bill's friends, fans and followers:

"Bill Russell, the most prolific winner in American sports history, passed away peacefully today aged 88, with his wife, Jeannine, by his side.

"Arrangements for his memorial will be announced soon.

"Bill's two state championships in high school offered a glimmer of the incomparable run of pure team accomplishment to come: twice an NCAA champion; captain of a gold-meal-winning US Olympic team; 11 times an NBA champion; and at the helm for two NBA championships as the first black head coach of any North American professional sports team.

"Along the way, Bill earned a string of individual awards that stands unprecedented as it went unmentioned by him.

"In 2009, the award for the NBA Finals most valuable player was renamed after two-time Hall of Famer as the 'Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award.

"But for all the winning, Bill's understanding of the struggle is what illuminated his life.

"From boycotting a 1961 exhibition game to unmask too-long-tolerates discrimination, to leading Mississippi's first integrated basketball camp in the combustible wake of Medgar Evans' assassination, to decades of activism ultimately recognised by his receipt of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010, Bill called out injustice with an unforgiving candour that he intended would disrupt the status quo, and with a powerful example that, though never his humble intention, will forever inspire teamwork selflessness and thoughtful change.

Bill Russell, left, star of the Boston Celtics is congratulated by coach Red Auerbach after scoring his 10,000th point in the NBA game against the Baltimore Bullets in Boston in December 1964
Image: Bill Russell, left, star of the Boston Celtics is congratulated by coach Red Auerbach after scoring his 10,000th point in the NBA game against the Baltimore Bullets in Boston in December 1964

"Bill's wife, Jeannine, and his many friends and family thank you for keeping Bill in your prayers. Perhaps you'll relive one or two of the golden moments he gave us, or recall his trademark laugh as he delighted in explaining the real story behind how those moments unfolded.

"And we hope each of us can find a new way to act or speak up with Bill's uncompromising, dignified and always constructive commitment to principle.

"That would be one last, and lasting, win for our beloved #6."

Considered the greatest defensive centre in basketball history, Russell turned the Celtics into a powerhouse that won eight consecutive titles from 1959 to 1966.

Russell anchored a Boston Celtics dynasty that won 11 titles in 13 years and his last two were as the first Black head coach in any major U.S. sport.

He was a Hall of Famer, five-time MVP and 12-time All-Star, winning with defence and rebounding and waged battles with Wilt Chamberlain. Russell also marched for civil rights with Martin Luther King Jr. and stood with boxer Muhammad Ali when he refused military induction.

'Bill Russell was the greatest champion in all of team sports'

At the news of Russell's passing, the sporting world paid tribute to the NBA Hall of Famer.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver released a statement reflecting on the life of the "ultimate winner and consummate teammate".

Former President Barack Obama posted his tributes to the legacy of Russell.

He said: "Today, we lost a giant. As tall as Bill Russell stood, his legacy rises far higher-both as a player and as a person.

"Perhaps more than anyone else, Bill knew what it took to win and what it took to lead. On the court, he was the greatest champion in basketball history. Off of it, he was a civil rights trailblazer-marching with Dr. King and standing with Muhammad Ali.

"For decades, Bill endured insults and vandalism, but never let it stop him from speaking up for what's right. I learned so much from the way he played, the way he coached, and the way he lived his life. Michelle and I send our love to Bill's family, and everyone who admired him."

The Boston Celtics added tributes to the "greatest champion" and "societal leader" that made history for their team:

Boston Celtics' Jaylen Brown also took to Twitter to pay respect to Russell:

Six-time NBA All Star, Pau Gasol, tweeted of his "honour" at meeting the Celtics legend:

Tennessee Titans' defensive end DeMarcus Walker paid his respects:

The Orlando Magic paid tribute to the NBA icon for "changing the game forever":

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