Bill Russell, one of the greatest basketball players in the sport’s history, died Sunday afternoon at the ripe age of 88.
The NBA great was prolific in establishing the Boston Celtics as one of the league’s most elite franchises. Russell won 11 championships over the span of 13 seasons – won his final two as a player-coach (the first Black head coach in any major U.S. sport).
On top of his league-leading (and seemingly unbreakable) 11 titles won, Russell earned five league MVP awards, was an NBA All-Star in 12-straight seasons (1958-69), and was named to the 25th, 35th, 50th, and 75th NBA Anniversary teams.
From a Lakers standpoint, Russell won every battle he and his Celtics teammates faced in the NBA Finals – a perfect 7-0 when facing the Lakers franchise (both representing Minneapolis and Los Angeles). In those seven NBA Finals vs the Purple and Gold, Russell averaged 17.1 points, 25.0 rebounds, and shot 48.5 percent from the field.
Despite the deep rivalry, Lakers legend Kobe Bryant solicited advice from Russell on how to be the best version of himself both on and off the court. Bryant credited the Celtics legendary big man for all he was taught when it came to leadership, as the two constantly bonded over the love of the game.
In 2009, then-NBA Commissioner David Stern announced the Finals MVP award would be renamed to the “Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award” in honor of the man himself.
Poetically, Kobe earned the newly named award following the Lakers’ Finals victory over the Orlando Magic.
In addition to an illustrious basketball career filled with historic moments and record-breaking stats, Russell was more than just a dominate athlete. The Celtics center was an advocate for social justice and civil rights.
For his right and pursuit of peace and equality, President Barack Obama awarded Russell with the Presidential Medal of Freedom while in office in 2011.
The loss of Russell was felt throughout the entire league and especially amongst those in the Lake Show community.
Lakers’ President Jeanie Buss put aside the L.A./Boston rivalry and shared her condolences to the world.
Former Lakers center and two-time NBA champion Pau Gasol expressed solace in his post honoring the Celtics great.
Although they never played the game against each other, Lakers legends Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and James Worthy shared their appreciation for Russell’s impact not only on the game but to each other personally.
The NBA and Lakers community mourns the loss of a truly legendary individual. Rest in peace, Bill Russell.