NBA commissioner Silver pays tribute to Russell

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Bill Russell passed away on Sunday
Bill Russell passed away on Sunday

NBA commissioner Adam Silver hailed Bill Russell as "the greatest champion in all of team sports" as he paid tribute to the basketball great, who died on Sunday.

Russell's family confirmed the 11-time NBA champion had passed away "peacefully" at the age of 88.

He was the first black head coach of any North American professional sports team, leading the Boston Celtics to back-to-back NBA Championships in 1968 and 1969.

Russell was an All-Star on 12 occasions, a five-time NBA MVP and is one of only four players to have been named to all four NBA anniversary teams (25th, 35th, 50th and 75th).

Away from the court, Russell championed the civil rights movement and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011 by Barack Obama.

"Bill Russell was the greatest champion in all of team sports," Silver wrote.

"The countless accolades that he earned for his storied career with the Boston Celtics – including a record 11 championships and five MVP awards – only begin to tell the story of Bill's immense impact on our league and broader society.

"Bill stood for something much bigger than sports: the values of equality, respect and inclusion that he stamped into the DNA of our league.

"At the height of his athletic career, Bill advocated vigorously for civil rights and social justice, a legacy he passed down to generations of NBA players who followed in his footsteps.

"Through the taunts, threats and unthinkable adversity, Bill rose above it all and remained true to his belief that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity.

"For nearly 35 years since Bill completed his trailblazing career as the league's first black head coach, we were fortunate to see him at every major NBA event, including the NBA Finals, where he presented the Bill Russell Trophy to the Finals MVP.

"I cherished my friendship with Bill and was thrilled when he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. I often called him basketball's Babe Ruth for how he transcended time.

"Bill was the ultimate winner and consummate team-mate, and his influence on the NBA will be felt forever. We send our deepest condolences to his wife, Jeannine, his family and his many friends."

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