Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell, who won 11 championships in 13 seasons with the team, has died, his family announced Sunday. He was 88.
A world-beater on the court, Russell was also known as a pioneer in the fight for civil rights, marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He broke the color barrier in major U.S. sports as its first Black head coach.
His family posted a message celebrating the life of one of the NBA’s greatest-ever players.
“Bill’s wife, Jeannine, and his many friends and family thank you for keeping Bill in your prayers. Perhaps you’ll relive one or two of the golden moments he gave us, or recall his trademark laugh as he delighted in explaining the real story behind how those moments unfolded,” they said.
His death was followed by a flood of remembrances from the Celtics and NBA communities. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called him “the greatest champion in all of team sports.”
Easily among the 75 greatest players in NBA history, Russell was named the league’s Most Valuable Player five times and was an All-Star 12 times. The 6-foot-9 center changed the way defense was played in the league.
PHOTOS: The Life of NBA, Celtics Great Bill Russell
Russell won a pair of state championships in high school at McClymonds in Oakland, California, followed by two more NCAA titles at the University of San Francisco and then 11 with the Celtics — including two as a player/coach — bringing his total to 15.
Born on Feb. 12, 1934, in Monroe, Louisiana, Russell was originally selected by the St. Louis Hawks with the second overall pick in the 1956 NBA Draft. But Red Auerbach orchestrated a trade with the Hawks that sent six-time All-Star Ed Macauley — along with the draft rights to Cliff Hagan — to St. Louis in exchange for the rights to Russell.
Both Hagan and Macauley wound up in the Basketball Hall of Fame as well, but the selection of Russell — along with future Hall of Famers Tommy Heinsohn and K.C. Jones in 1956 — set the stage for Boston’s run as the premier NBA dynasty throughout the rest of the ’50s and well into the 1960s.
Russell’s last two championships came as player-coach of the Celtics — he took over coaching duties from Auerbach after the 1966 title.
After retiring from the NBA as a player, a 963-game career in which he averaged 15.1 points and 22.5 rebounds per game, Russell spent four seasons as head coach of the Seattle SuperSonics from 1973-77 and one season with the Sacramento Kings in 1987-88.
Russell’s No. 6 jersey has been retired by the Celtics since 1972.
This is a breaking news story that will be updated.