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American basketball legend Bill Russell dies at 88

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The most successful player in NBA history, with eleven championship rings won with the Boston Celtics in the 1960s, Bill Russell died on Sunday July 31.

The announcement came in the form of a tweet posted by his family. ” 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 “, she said.

The most successful player in NBA history, basketball player Bill Russell revolutionized his sport by imposing a new weapon on it, the counterattack, and by showing the way to black Americans whose rights he has always passionately defended. Eleven times champion with the Boston Celtics, a record that still stands, including eight in a row from 1959 to 1966, and the last two times as a player-coach, he was the first black American appointed to head a franchise of an American professional sport and the first to be crowned, in its second year (1967).

If he was a player with honorable offensive talent (15.1 average points per game), it was his defense that made his glory. Endowed with a beautiful trigger, he propelled his 208 cm, exceptional size for the time, to a phenomenal height which intimidated all his rivals for thirteen seasons. ” The idea was not to counter all their shots, but to convince them that each of them could be “, he explained in a documentary produced by the NBA.

civil rights defender

Born in 1934 in Louisiana, in a Deep South still living under racial discrimination, before moving with his family to California in the 1940s, Russell was not the first black man to play in the NBA, but he was the first african american basketball superstar.

He used his notoriety to advance the cause of civil rights. In 1967, he appeared alongside fellow NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, American football star Jim Brown and Muhammad Ali at the ” cleveland summit where he supported the boxer, prosecuted for refusing to join the army. In 1963, he participated in Martin Luther King’s March on Washington, but he refused to be promoted. Because Russell had a singular character, introverted and sometimes considered inaccessible, even arrogant, in particular because he did not willingly sign autographs.

It was above all his ardent stand against racism, including in favor of the leader Malcolm X, which earned him the animosity and even the hatred of some: his house in Boston was one day ransacked and soiled with excrement.

On the pitch, Russell was an example of selflessness. With his innumerable blocks, literally since the NBA did not count them until 1973, and his rebounds (21,620, the second total in history), he was the launching pad for the Celtics’ fast game, led by players like Bob Cousy and John Havlicek.

His great rival was the Philadelphia player Wilt Chamberlain, another giant (2.16 m) in the history of basketball with a totally different personality, extroverted and individualistic, who often stole the limelight from him in the media, but with whom he got along very well outside of games. In the end, the individual records were for Chamberlain (that of 100 points in the same match) and the collective successes for Russell (eleven titles to two).

Bill Russell involved himself with such intensity in his sport that he almost made himself ill. He vomited before each meeting. His will to win was fierce. ” I always wear black suits because I come to bury my opponents “, said the one who was crowned best player in the North American championship five times.

« We have lost a giant »

The NBA planet was quick to react to his death. Proof that the star pivot of the Boston Celtics has marked entire generations of basketball players, active players and former glories hailed a “ legend “. Michael Jordan meanwhile honored a “ pioneer “, who ” paved the way and set an example for all black players who entered the league after him, including me ».

But beyond his sporting impact, many have paid tribute to his fight for civil rights. ” Bill Russell was my idol. He was one of the first athletes to fight on the front lines for social justice, fairness, equality and civil rights. That’s why I admired and loved him so much “, thus confided the former leader of the Los Angeles Lakers, Earvin “Magic” Johnson.

« Today we lost a giant. On the court, he was the greatest champion in basketball history. Off the pitch, he was a civil rights pioneer, marching with Dr (Martin Luther) King and standing alongside Muhammad Ali summed up former US President Barack Obama.

(With AFP)

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