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The world of basketball and beyond (Jordan, Celtics, Obama...) pay tribute to Bill Russell

A Civil Rights icon and NBA record-holder, Bill Russell passed away at the age of 88 on Sunday. He will go down as a sporting great.

Boston Celtics' player Bill Russell hooks a shot during the NBA championship's final game in 1960 against the Saint Louis Hawks.

Tributes have been widespread from the sporting world and beyond responding to the death on Sunday of Bill Russell, who won 11 championships during a Hall of Fame career spent entirely with the Boston Celtics.

US President Barack Obama awards the 2010 Medal of Freedom to NBA basketball hall of famer and human rights advocate Bill Russell
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US President Barack Obama awards the 2010 Medal of Freedom to NBA basketball hall of famer and human rights advocate Bill RussellJIM WATSONAFP

Former U.S. President Barack Obama:

Today, we lost a giant. As tall as Bill Russell stood, his legacy rises far higher—both as a player and as a person.

“Perhaps more than anyone else, Bill knew what it took to win and what it took to lead. On the court, he was the greatest champion in basketball history. Off of it, he was a civil rights trailblazer — marching with Dr. King and standing with Muhammad Ali.

"For decades, Bill endured insults and vandalism, but never let it stop him from speaking up for what’s right. I learned so much from the way he played, the way he coached, and the way he lived his life."

Charlotte Hornets Chairman Michael Jordan:

“Bill Russell was a pioneer – as a player, as a champion, as the NBA’s first Black head coach and as an activist.

“He paved the way and set an example for every Black player who came into the league after him, including me. The world has lost a legend.”

Former LA Lakers great Magic Johnson:

“I’m heartbroken to hear about the passing of the greatest winner the game of basketball has ever seen, a legend, hall of famer, mentor and my friend for over 30 years, Bill Russell.

“Bill Russell was my idol. I looked up to him on the court and off. His success on the court was undeniable; he was dominate and great, winning 11 NBA championships. Off the court, Bill Russell paved the way for guys like me.

“He was one of the first athletes on the front line fighting for social justice, equity, equality, and civil rights. That’s why I admired and loved him so much. Over the course of our friendship, he always reminded me about making things better in the Black community.

Former Women’s tennis No. 1 Billie Jean King:

“Bill Russell was a once-in-a-generation activist athlete who made all around him better. He had a career of firsts & led the way for many. I admired him my entire life & he had a huge influence on my career. He was the ultimate leader, ultimate team player & ultimate champion.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver:

“I often called him basketball’s Babe Ruth for how he transcended time. Bill was the ultimate winner and consummate teammate, and his influence on the NBA will be felt forever.

Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas:

“Rest in peace Bill Russell you were everything we all aspired to be, your winning spirit will live forever my friend. Thank you for your words of wisdom.”

Boston Celtics:

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.

USA Basketball:

“USA Basketball mourns the loss of basketball titan, humanitarian & 1956 Olympic gold medalist Bill Russell.”