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NBA legend and civil rights activist Bill Russell dies at 88

He won the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010 for his civil rights activism

Published: July 31, 2022 1:31pm

Updated: July 31, 2022 1:57pm

Boston Celtics legend and civil rights activist Bill Russell passed away at the age of 88 on Sunday at home with his wife, Jeannine.

statement posted to Russell's Twitter reflected on his life's accomplishments, saying how he was "twice an NCAA champion; captain of a gold-medal-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."

The 6-foot-10-inch Russell played for the Boston Celtics from 1956 to 1969. During his last three years on the team, he also was a coach, making him the first black head coach of any major U.S. professional sports team.

The statement on his Twitter focused on his civil rights work as well. 

"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-tolerated discrimination, to leading Mississippi's first integrated basketball camp in the combustible
wake of Medgar Evans' assassination, to decades of activism ultimately recognized by his receipt of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010, 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," the statement said.

Russell was born in Monroe, La., in 1934, and his family moved to Oakland, Calif., when he was eight. Throughout his childhood, he experienced racism and poverty.

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