Russell’s family posted a statement on social networks early on Sunday morning announcing his passing at the age of 88. A lot of people paid tribute to the legend and his history both on and off the court in the moments since it was released, including fans, members of the media, current and former players.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver shared his thoughts on the passing of Bill Russell in a statement:
Bill Russell was the greatest champion in all of team sports. The countless accolades that he earned for 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 immense impact on our league and broader society.
He further discussed the legacy of Bill outside the court:
“Bill stood for something much bigger than sports: the values of equality, respect and inclusion that he stamped into the DNA of our league. At the height of his athletic career, Bill advocated vigorously for civil rights and social justice, a legacy he passed down to generations of NBA players who followed in his footsteps. Through the taunts, threats and unthinkable adversity, Bill rose above it all and remained true to his belief that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity.
Former President Barack Obama also tweeted:
“Today, we lost a giant.
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.
Michelle and I send our love to Bill’s family, and everyone who admired him.”
Tribute from Boston Celtics
In order to honor Russell’s illustrious jersey number, the Boston Celtics changed the official Twitter profile image to a No. 6. They also issued the following statement in four parts:
“To be the greatest champion in your sport, to revolutionize the way the game is played, and to be a societal leader all at once seems unthinkable, but that is who Bill Russell was. (1/4)
Bill was a champion unlike any other in the history of team sports – an 11-time NBA champion, including winning eight consecutive titles, a five-time MVP, an Olympic Gold Medalist and the NBA’s first Black head coach. (2/4)
Bill Russell‘s DNA is woven through every element of the Celtics organization, from the relentless pursuit of excellence, to the celebration of team rewards over individual glory, to a commitment to social justice and civil rights off the court. (3/4)
Our thoughts are with his family as we mourn his passing and celebrate his enormous legacy in basketball, Boston, and beyond.” (4/4)
“Mr. Russell changed the game! Basketball has always been played on both ends and he was the most dominant defender the game has ever seen! Don’t talk to me about who was better, scored more, better style, flashier or who you liked more. It’s about WINNING and He Won More! Period.”
Former and Current NBA Players
Former and current NBA players seemed to still be in shock when they heard about Russell’s passing:
Hornets chairman Michael Jordan, the league’s greatest player of the time, said Russell opened the way for players like him.
Ten years after Russell retired, NBA great Earvin Magic Johnson joined the league. He agreed with Jordan’s assessment of Russell’s influence on future generations.
“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.”
The most impactful athletes in American history hold the records for:
- 1st Black head coach of any North American pro sports team
- Received Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011
- 11 times NBA champ (2 as coach)
- 5 times league MVP
- 2 times NCAA champ
- Olympic gold medalist