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NBA and Boston Celtics icon Bill Russell dies at 88

A Civil Rights icon and NBA record-holder, Bill Russell won the NBA championships 11 times during 13 seasons.

BOSTON- 1996: Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics poses for a photo with eleven of his Championship rings in 1996 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1996 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images) 
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Nathaniel S. ButlerDIARIO AS

The NBA is in mourning after the news came through that William Fenton ‘Bill’ Russell (Monroe, Louisiana, 1934) passed away on Sunday at the age of 88, according to Shams Charania (The Athletic). Russell was one of the first stars in the history of the basketball league and the man with the most rings in history of the sport with 11 in just 13 years, two as player-coach. All of these successes came in Boston, with his beloved Celtics. He took team to the cusp of the NBA alongside his great mentor Red Auberbach with eight in a row wins between 1959 and 1966, eclipsing the New York Yankees and their five World Series from 1949 to 1953, and the Montreal Canadiens with their five Stanley Cups (1956 to 1960).

Russell was crowned five-time MVP of the competition (1958, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1963, 1965) and 12 times elected to the annual North American League All-Star Game, as well as becoming in 1966 the first African-American coach in NBA history, after succeeding Red Auerbach. A man without equal and a genuine pioneer in all areas of basketball.

Silver mourns ‘greatest champion’

The NBA commissioner Adam Silver published a message of condolence to his family and to the basketball world declaring that “Bill Russell was the greatest champion in the history of collective sports”.

His eight consecutive championships (1959-1966) gave way to a period as coach-player that culminated in two more championships (1968, 1969). After winning the latter trophy, he retired at the age of 35.

Bill Russell
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Russell-Chamberlain rivalry

His rivalry with Wilt Chamberlain was the first great struggle between two giants in the NBA. The 1964 championship came against the San Francisco Warriors, where the legendary center played. In the eight Playoffs when they faced each other, Russell was victorious in seven.

In terms of career averages, Russell grabbed 22.5 rebounds per game, with one 50-rebound game and two 49-rebound games. He averaged 15 points in his 13 NBA seasons and had 12 consecutive seasons of grabbing 1,000 rebounds or more.

His influence spans basketball to this day, with the Finals MVP trophy having been named after him since February 2009 (announced by then NBA commissioner David Stern.)

Wilt Chamberlain & Bill Russell
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Wilt Chamberlain & Bill Russell BettmannBettmann Archive

Beyond the court

Bill Russell’s legacy in American sports goes beyond his qualities on the court. His impact on the racial struggle in the United States has established him as one of the greatest figures in basketball history with the former Celtics player being awarded the Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2011.

Russell took part in the 1963 March on Washington alongside Martin Luther King to defend social rights, as well as having been, for decades, an active figure in anti-racism campaigns with sportsmen such as Mohammed Ali and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In fact, he joined the Lakers centre at the famous Cleveland Summit in 1967, protecting the boxer after his refusal to fight in Vietnam.