“It’s with a really heavy heart we would love to pass along to all of Bill’s friends, fans, & followers,” the statement reads. “Bill Russell, probably the most prolific winner in American sports history, passed away peacefully today at age 88, along with his wife, Jeannine, by his side. Arrangements for his memorial service shall be announced soon.
“Bill’s two state championships in highschool offered a glimmer of the incomparable run of pure team accomplishment to come back: twice an NCAA champion; captain of a gold-medal-winning US Olympic team; 11 times an NBA champion; and on the helm for 2 NBA championships as the primary black head coach of any North American skilled sports team.
“Along the way in which, Bill earned a string of individual awards that stands unprecedented because it went unmentioned by him. In 2009, the award for the NBA Finals most dear player was renamed after two- time Hall of Famer because the ‘Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Worthwhile Player Award.’
“Bill’s wife, Jeannine, and his many family and friends thanks for keeping Bill in your prayers. Perhaps you may relive one or two of the golden moments he gave us, or recall his trademark laugh as he delighted in explaining the actual story behind how those moments unfolded. And we hope each of us can discover a recent method to act or speak up with Bill’s uncompromising, dignified and at all times constructive commitment to principle. That may be one last, and lasting, win for our beloved #6.”
Russell won 11 championships with the Celtics, including eight straight from 1959 to 1966. He was a five-time NBA MVP and a 12-time All-Star.
As a coach for the Celtics, he led Boston to 2 titles, becoming the primary Black head coach to win an NBA championship.
The Celtics issued an announcement lauding Russell and his contribution to each the team and the game as an entire.
“To be the best champion in your sport, to revolutionize the way in which the sport is played, and to be a societal leader suddenly seems unthinkable, but that’s who Bill Russell was,” the statement read.
“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. Our thoughts are along with his family as we mourn his passing and rejoice his enormous legacy in basketball, Boston, and beyond.”
Fellow NBA legend Michael Jordan — widely considered to be the best basketball player of all time — said, “Bill Russell was a pioneer — as a player, as a champion, because the NBA’s first Black head coach and as an activist. He paved the way in which and set an example for each Black player who got here into the league after him, including me. The world has lost a legend. My condolences to his family and should he rest in peace.”
Former US President Barack Obama took to social media to praise Russell’s contribution to basketball and society: “Today, we lost a large. As tall as Bill Russell stood, his legacy rises far higher — each as a player and as an individual. Perhaps greater than anyone else, Bill knew what it took to win and what it took to steer. On the court, he was the best champion in basketball history. Off of it, he was a civil rights trailblazer — marching with Dr. King and standing with Muhammad Ali.
“For a long time, Bill endured insults and vandalism, but never let it stop him from speaking up for what’s right. I learned a lot from the way in which he played, the way in which he coached, and the way in which he lived his life. Michelle and I send our like to Bill’s family, and everybody who admired him.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver also shared his condolences.
“Bill Russell was the best champion in all of team sports,” Silver said in an announcement. “The countless accolades that he earned for his storied profession with the Boston Celtics — including a record 11 championships and five MVP awards — only begin to inform the story of Bill’s immense impact on our league and broader society.
“Bill stood for something much greater than sports: the values of equality, respect and inclusion that he stamped into the DNA of our league. At the peak of his athletic profession, Bill advocated vigorously for civil rights and social justice, a legacy he passed all the way down to generations of NBA players who followed in his footsteps. Through the taunts, threats and unthinkable adversity, Bill rose above all of it and remained true to his belief that everybody deserves to be treated with dignity.”
CNN’s Homero de la Fuente contributed to this report.