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Bill Russell: NBA legend, black rights activist

Bill Russell: NBA legend, black rights activist
Russell, who has 11 NBA Championship rings with Celtics, was also a head figure against racism

By Selcuk Bugra Gokalp

ANKARA (AA) - Bill Russell, one of the NBA's greatest players of all time, anchor of the Boston Celtics dynasty through the 1960s, which won 11 championships in 13 years, died Sunday at the age of 88, his family announced.

Bill Russell was first drafted to NBA by Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach in 1956, after Rochester Royals (Sacramento Kings now), who owned the first draft pick, were unwilling to pay Russell the $25,000 signing bonus he requested.

Before his NBA rookie year, Russell played as the skipper of the 1956 US men's Olympic basketball team, who bagged the gold medal at the 1956 Melbourne Summer Games.

He won his first NBA Championship in his rookie year, 1957, and was named the 1957 NBA Rookie of the Year.

After losing the 1958 title to St. Louis Hawks with 2-4 in the final, Russell's fantastic Boston Celtics era began in 1959.

He went on to win ten NBA titles in the next 12 years, including eight consecutive championships from 1959 to 1966.

After Celtics coach Red Auerbach retired before the 1966–67 NBA season, Bill Russell stepped in to fill the head coaches shoes until 1969.

He won two more NBA titles in 1968 and 1969 as player-coach. In his last game with the Celtics, Russell contributed with 6 points, 21 rebounds, and 6 assists in the 1969 final against the LA Lakers at 35 years of age.

He holds the record for the most NBA championships won, with 11 titles during his 13-year playing career.

After cutting ties with Boston, Russell tried his luck in coaching with Seattle SuperSonics (1973–1977) and Sacramento Kings (1987–1988). He led the former into the playoffs for the first time in franchise history but couldn't secure any titles.

- Legacy

Bill Russell became the pinnacle of the Boston Celtics dynasty of the 1960s in the NBA with his revolutionary defensive approach at that time.

He was regarded as a complete defensive center with his defensive intensity, high basketball IQ and strong will to win.

Russell was also great at playing man-to-man defense, blocking shots and grabbing defensive rebounds.

His then-rival Wilt Chamberlain stated that Russell's timing as a shot-blocker was unparalleled.

- Black rights activism

Battle against racism was always a part of Russell's life. After witnessing his parents being victims of racial abuse as a child, he became sensitive to all racial prejudice and took a stand against racism wherever he felt necessary.

In the 1958 offseason, the hotel owners in North Carolina denied rooms to Russell and his black teammates when NBA All-Stars toured the US. In his 1966 memoir, Go Up for Glory, he wrote about this incident.

"It stood out, a wall which understanding cannot penetrate. You are a Negro. You are less," he wrote, "It covered every area. A living, smarting, hurting, smelling, a greasy substance which covered you. A morass to fight from."

In October 1961, Russell, with his black teammates, Sam Jones and Satch Sanders, boycotted an NBA exhibition game in Lexington, Kentucky, against the St. Louis Hawks; after a waitress refused to serve Jones and Sanders at a coffee shop at the Phoenix Hotel. This incident went down in history as the 1961 Boston Celtics boycott.

He was a black rights activist and was among the African-American athletes who came together with political leaders at the 1967 "Cleveland Summit" or "Muhammad Ali Summit" to support Muhammad Ali's decision to refuse to be drafted.

Some public statements of him found militant and controversial by many. He once said, "I dislike most white people because they are people ... I like most blacks because I am black."

In 1966, after his succession to Red Auerbach, Russell became the first black coach in North American professional sports and the first to win a championship.

Russell mostly refused to attend fan acclaims or ceremonies, like his jersey No. 6 retirement ceremony in 1972 and his induction into the Hall of Fame in 1975, thinking it was insincere and hypocritical after repeated racial bigotry.

"You owe the public the same it owes you, nothing! I refuse to smile and be nice to the kiddies." he once said against Celtics fans and alienated them. Both sides had bitter feelings toward each other for a long time.

The ice between Russell and Boston started to melt as Russell later attended the ceremony of the Celtics, which was also attended by the likes of his on-court rival Chamberlain, Celtics legend Larry Bird and Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, as they re-retired Russell's jersey.

He also accepted the Hall of Fame ring in a private ceremony in 2019.

In 2011, Russell was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his accomplishments on the court and in the civil rights movement.

source: News Feed
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