Bill Russell, the NBA great who founded a Boston Celtics dynasty that won 11 championships in 13 years — the last two as the first black head coach in any major U.S. sport — and championed civil rights alongside Martin Luther King Jr., died Sunday. . He was 88.
His family posted the news on social media, saying that Russell died with his wife, Jeanine. The cause of death was not specified in the statement.
“Bill’s wife Jeanine and his many friends and family thank you for keeping Bill in your prayers. Perhaps you will relive one or two of the golden moments he gave us, or remember his signature laugh as he happily explained the real story of how those moments unfolded,” the family said in a statement. “And we hope that each of us can find a new way to act or speak with Bill’s uncompromising, dignified and always constructive principle. It would be a final and lasting victory for our beloved number 6.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement that Russell was “the greatest champion in all of team sports.”
“Bill stood for something much bigger than sports: the values of equality, respect and integration that he instilled in the DNA of our league. At the height of his athletic career, Bill was a strong advocate for civil rights and social justice, a legacy he passed on to generations of NBA players who followed in his footsteps,” Silver said. “Through bullying, threats and unimaginable adversity, Bill rose above it all and remained true to his belief that every human being deserves to be treated with dignity.