He is regarded as the ultimate winner. He won 11 NBA titles in a 13-year span, including eight in a row from 1959 to '66. He holds the NBA Finals records for championships, appearances, game played, rebounds and minutes. He also won two NCAA titles at the University of San Francisco and a gold medal in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Russell's 11 pro championships are tied, with Henri Richard, who played for the Montreal Canadiens, for the most by any athlete in NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL history.
Russell was also a powerful civil rights leader. In 1961, he led a player protest when Celtics players were denied service in a Lexington, Kentucky, restaurant. In 1963, along with Martin Luther King Jr., Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Russell stood with boxer Muhammad Ali, who refused to be drafted into the Vietnam War. In 2017, Russell publicly supported athletes protesting during the national anthem.
"Bill called out injustice with an unforgiving candor 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," his family's statement read on Sunday.
The sports world joined together to mourn and honor Russell:
Celtics past and present
Thank you for everything! R.I.P Legend 🙏🏽 pic.twitter.com/tn2iGsArav— Jayson Tatum (@jaytatum0) July 31, 2022
Rest In Peace 🕊thank you for paving the way and inspiring so many Today is a sad day but also great day to celebrate his legacy and what he stood for 💚 pic.twitter.com/kvDaIsjpGG— Jaylen Brown (@FCHWPO) July 31, 2022
Thanku for being a trailblazer , pioneer Thanku for setting the bar , for ur kind words of wisdom, Thanku for that great laugh u had . I can go on all day about what u meant to me . Today is a sad day for the NBA family u will be forever missed #6— Paul Pierce (@paulpierce34) July 31, 2022
So very sad to hear about Bill Russell today. He set the standard - on and off the court. RIP to an all-time winner, teammate and person. 🙏🙏 https://t.co/OIzUn8aLwG— Brad Stevens (@BCCoachStevens) July 31, 2022
My hero. My friend. What a hole we have now. 🙏🏾 🐐 pic.twitter.com/NQlIO7hk8k— Cedric Maxwell (@cedricmaxwell81) July 31, 2022
Elsewhere in Boston, the city's mayor, Michelle Wu, and the Red Sox paid tribute.
Bill Russell gave so much to the city of Boston-as the greatest sports champion of all time & a role model fighting for justice, equality & labor rights.— Michelle Wu 吳弭 (@wutrain) July 31, 2022
We owe him a debt of gratitude & we will miss him.
Fenway Park honors Bill Russell with a moment of silence. pic.twitter.com/QtlvdIt70m— WEEI Red Sox Network (@SoxBooth) July 31, 2022
Around the NBA
Russell was beloved by NBA players, and his championship legacy towers over the sport. The NBA Finals MVP award is named after Russell.
"If I had a choice of any basketball player in the league," former Lakers guard, and NBA executive, Jerry West said after losing to the Celtics in the 1968 Finals, "my No.1 choice has to be Bill Russell. Bill Russell never ceases to amaze me."
A statement from Hornets Chairman Michael Jordan on the passing of NBA legend Bill Russell. pic.twitter.com/RdYcnuCrmb— Charlotte Hornets (@hornets) July 31, 2022
Legends are forever.— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) July 31, 2022
RIP Bill Russell, truly a titan of our game. pic.twitter.com/EKpLABwzmT
Rest in peace Bill Russell you were everything we all aspired to be, your winning spirit will live forever my friend. Thank you for your words of wisdom. pic.twitter.com/rBjFS6nhzW— Isiah Thomas (@IsiahThomas) July 31, 2022
This is a teary-eyed Sunday knowing that we lost a legendary human being @RealBillRussell His dedication to civil-rights, human-rights and the sport of basketball puts him beyond legendary status. That smile will be missed. pic.twitter.com/fmZSmFVkqp— Robert Horry (@RKHorry) July 31, 2022
The world lost a legend with the passing of Bill Russell. His impact on basketball and society will not be forgotten. He handled every adversity with dignity and grace, and walked away a champion. My condolences to his family and those blessed enough to call him a friend.— Patrick Ewing (@CoachEwing33) July 31, 2022
Bill Russell was my idol. I looked up to him on the court and off. His success on the court was undeniable; he was dominate and great, winning 11 NBA championships. Off the court, Bill Russell paved the way for guys like me. pic.twitter.com/ZMIrEx8Tne— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) July 31, 2022
Rest In Peace Legend! 🙏🏽😞❤️ https://t.co/VhjGoIM8Ff— Trae Young (@TheTraeYoung) July 31, 2022
RIP to the Legend Bill Russell— James Harden (@JHarden13) July 31, 2022
A champion who revolutionized the game for all of us. Bill Russell was an inspiration to me in so many ways. May he Rest in Power.— Carmelo Anthony (@carmeloanthony) July 31, 2022
Outside of sports
Russell was awarded the Medal of Freedom by former President Barack Obama in 2011, the nation's highest civilian honor. He also continued to support athletes protesting. In 2020, he supported NBA players who were protesting police shootings of George Floyd and Jacob Blake.
What a trailblazer who transcended sports in influencing our national and global landscape.— Be A King (@BerniceKing) July 31, 2022
A champion in many ways that matter.
Thank you and rest in power, Sir #BillRussell. pic.twitter.com/KTG9BIJwWW
Today, we lost a giant.— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) July 31, 2022
As tall as Bill Russell stood, his legacy rises far higher-both as a player and as a person.
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.— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) July 31, 2022
Michelle and I send our love to Bill's family, and everyone who admired him.
Bill Russell was a once-in-a-generation activist athlete who made all around him better. He had a career of firsts & led the way for many. I admired him my entire life & he had a huge influence on my career. He was the ultimate leader, ultimate team player & ultimate champion. pic.twitter.com/tM6C69GePz— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) July 31, 2022
Bill Russell was a legendary player and coach, and an even better person. He approached everything he did with determination, principle, and wisdom. I will always be grateful for the chance to call him my friend. pic.twitter.com/CmMVzLJUJJ— Bill Clinton (@BillClinton) July 31, 2022
Legend. pic.twitter.com/5M45lJnSPU— Pete Souza (@PeteSouza) July 31, 2022
So sad to hear of the passing of one of the all time greats...sending love and condolences to the Russell family.🙏🏾💚 https://t.co/svL2dlXT8v— Robin Roberts (@RobinRoberts) July 31, 2022
Bill Russell was one of the kindest, most thoughtful people I've ever met. Once called out of the blue because he thought I looked sad on TV...best pep talk of my life. RIP— Jon Stewart (@jonstewart) July 31, 2022