"Bill Russell, the most prolific winner in American sports history, passed away peacefully today at the age of 88, with his wife Jeannine at his bedside," his family announced on Twitter. of the former player.
The NBA and more broadly American sport has lost one of its legends, also recognizable by his deep laugh.
His record is impressive and will probably never be equaled: in thirteen seasons in the NBA, all under the green jersey of the Boston Celtics, Russell won eleven league titles, a record that still stands, including eight in a row from 1959 to 1966.
If he ended his career with a quite honorable average of 15.1 points per game, Russell made a name for himself thanks to his defense: from the height of his 208 cm, he was intractable and disgusted his opponents with its cons.
He was also the first black American appointed to lead an American professional sports franchise and the first to be crowned, in his second year (1967), at the head of "his" Celtics.
- "We have lost a giant" -
It is also outside the basketball courts that Russell has become a figure in American society, which earned him in 2011 from the hands of Barack Obama the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest American civilian honor.
"Today we lost a giant," reacted to the announcement of his death the former US president. "On the court, he was the greatest champion in basketball history. Off the court, he was a civil rights pioneer, marching with Dr (Martin Luther) King and standing alongside Muhammad Ali ."
"For decades Bill endured name calling and harassment, but that never stopped him from standing up for what was right. I learned so much from the way he played, the way he coached and the way he to live his life," added Barack Obama.
"America's promise is that we are all created equal and deserve to be treated the same throughout our lives. We have never fully delivered on that promise, but Bill Russell made sure that we never give up on it,” also greeted current President Joe Biden, in a press release.
Born in 1934 in Louisiana, in a Deep South still living under a regime of racial discrimination, before moving with his family to California in the 1940s, Russell used his notoriety to advance the cause of civil rights.
- March on Washington -
In 1963, he participated in Martin Luther King's March on Washington.
“From his childhood in segregated Louisiana to his career in the biggest gyms, during the height of the civil rights movement, Bill faced racist hostility and hatred, rooted in every aspect of American life. Yet he never gave up. Throughout his life, he forced us to face hard truths," said Joe Biden.
Upon the announcement of his death, the NBA paid tribute to the "greatest champion of all team sports".
"Bill stood for something much bigger than sport: the values of equality, respect and inclusion that he inscribed in our league's DNA," NBA boss Adam Silver said in a statement. communicated.
"At the peak 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," added Adam Silver.
Current Celtics players also paid tribute to him.
"You changed not just the league but the world," Grant Williams tweeted, while Jaylen Brown posted a message thanking Bill Russell "for leading the way and inspiring so many."
"Bill Russell was my idol," said former Los Angeles Lakers point guard Magic Johnson. "He was one of the first sportsmen to fight on the front lines for social justice, fairness, equality and civil rights."
Star Michael Jordan paid tribute to him as a "pioneer", who "paved the way and set an example for all black players who entered the league after him, including me".
"The world has lost a legend with the passing of Bill Russell. His impact on basketball and society will not be forgotten," said former New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing.
While the date of his funeral has not yet been set, his family hoped that "each of us finds the means to speak and act in the way of Bill, without compromise, with dignity and a always constructive approach...