Death of basketball player Bill Russell, “genius” of the prosecution and civil rights defender

Bill Russell never single-handedly scored 100 points in a game. This performance, unique in the history of the National Basketball Association (NBA, the North American basketball league) belongs forever to Wilt Chamberlain (in March 1962). But for years, the former Boston Celtics pivot, who died Sunday July 31 at the age of 88, in Mercer Island, Washington, made his biggest rival look like a loser, unable to overthrow Russell and his team. “If I was a loser, I was in good company, summarized Chamberlain after his career. Just about everyone who played [au basket] at that time they were too. »

Because Bill Russell, who throughout his career wanted to be recognized as the greatest winner in the history of his sport, did everything to deserve the epithet. On his own, the Celtics pivot has more NBA titles (eleven) than Michael Jordan (six) and Lebron James (four) combined – two names that come up frequently in the debate on the “greatest player in history”. Cornerstone of the Celtics in the 1950s and 1960s, Bill Russell revolutionized the game of basketball. And paved the way, by committing against segregation and racism, to all subsequent generations of black athletes – and coaches – in the NBA.

William Felton Russell was born on April 12, 1934, in Monroe, Louisiana. He joined the Boston Celtics in 1956. In this city then hardly known for its openness, he suffered from racism. Including from fans of his team. In his memoirs, the player compares the city of Massachusetts to “a flea market of racism” ; and he never forgot that despite his immense sporting achievements, he was still considered an outsider even within his own team. In 2020, he reported that more than 50% of people who responded to a Boston Celtics survey asking about how to bring more spectators to games checked “have fewer black players”. And regularly, death threats reached him by mail, and his house had been broken into and vandalized with racist tags.

Boston Celtics No. 6 Bill Russell during a basketball game at Boston Garden, February 1, 1963.

Of all the fights for civil rights

After ending his career at the age of 34 – not without becoming, during his last two seasons on the floor, the first black coach in NBA history – Bill Russell left Boston and refused that the public of the city, to whom he felt he owed nothing, attended the ceremony where the Celtics retired his jersey – honor done to players who marked the history of a team, putting aside the number that he wore.

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