The NBA World is reacting to the loss of one of its greatest titans, 11-time NBA Champion and Boston Celtics great Bill Russell.
The announcement of Russell’s death at age 88 came Sunday morning in a statement from his family on social media. In the hours since it was posted, that statement has been met with countless others — from fans, media, current and ex-players, including Portland Trail Blazers — paying respect to the legend and his legacy on and off the court.
Statement From NBA Commissioner Adam Silver
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver released a statement praising Russell’s “immense impact on our league and broader society.”
“Bill Russell was the greatest champion in all of team sports. 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 teammate, 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.”
Statement From the Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics organization changed its official Twitter profile picture to a No. 6 — representing Russell’s iconic jersey number — and released this statement:
To be the greatest champion in your sport, to revolutionize the way the game is played, and to be a societal leader all at once seems unthinkable, but that is who Bill Russell was. (1/4)
Bill was a champion unlike any other in the history of team sports - an 11-time NBA champion, including winning eight consecutive titles, a five-time MVP, an Olympic Gold Medalist and the NBA’s first Black head coach. (2/4)
Bill Russell‘s DNA is woven through every element of the Celtics organization, from the relentless pursuit of excellence, to the celebration of team rewards over individual glory, to a commitment to social justice and civil rights off the court. (3/4)
Our thoughts are with his family as we mourn his passing and celebrate his enormous legacy in basketball, Boston, and beyond. (4/4)
Reactions From Current and Former Blazers
According to KHOU-TV sportscaster Matt Musil, Blazers great Clyde Drexler reacted to Russel’s passing with statements about his word-class talent, humor and intelligence.
More from Clyde on Bill Russell:— Matt Musil (@KHOUSportsMatt) July 31, 2022
“He was one of the greatest guys ever. He won NCAA Championships & 11 NBA titles in 13 years. He was so smart. He was like a walking history book. He was also one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. He was like a big brother to me.” https://t.co/HmYb9LwXXq
Former Blazer and NBA analyst Greg Anthony tweeted about Russell’s revolutionary impact on basketball, especially at the defensive end.
Mr. Russell changed the game! Basketball has always been played on both ends and he was the most dominant defender the game has ever seen! Don’t talk to me about who was better, scored more, better style, flashier or who you liked more. It’s about WINNING and He Won More! Period https://t.co/foWFEn6U0V— Greg Anthony (@GregAnthony50) July 31, 2022
Current Blazer Anfernee Simons, 23, paid his respects to Russell with a short tweet, demonstrating how younger generations understand what Russell meant to the game.
Rest In Peace Bill Russell a true pioneer of the game. Forever a legend to us all— Anfernee Simons (@AnferneeSimons) July 31, 2022
Simons’ teammate, Portland center Jusuf Nurkic, posted a similar message.
Reactions From Current and Former NBA Players
A statement from Hornets Chairman Michael Jordan on the passing of NBA legend Bill Russell. pic.twitter.com/RdYcnuCrmb— Charlotte Hornets (@hornets) July 31, 2022
Los Angeles Lakers legend Earvin Magic Johnson began his NBA career 10 years after Russell’s retirement. He shared a similar sentiment to Jordan’s statement about Russell’s impact on future generations.
Bill Russell was my idol. I looked up to him on the court and off. His success on the court was undeniable; he was dominate and great, winning 11 NBA championships. Off the court, Bill Russell paved the way for guys like me. pic.twitter.com/ZMIrEx8Tne— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) July 31, 2022
Johnson also spoke of his longtime friendship with Russell.
I’m heartbroken to hear about the passing of the greatest winner the game of basketball has ever seen, a legend, hall of famer, mentor and my friend for over 30 years, Bill Russell. pic.twitter.com/iiSkVq2kdn— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) July 31, 2022
Another NBA Hall of Famer, Charles Barkley, now an analyst for Turner Sports, released a statement celebrating Russell as a “hero.”
Charles Barkley's statement regarding the passing of Bill Russell pic.twitter.com/kVwqnBchzO— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) July 31, 2022
Current Celtic Jaylen Brown helped Boston reach the NBA Finals for the first time in 12 years this past season. He commemorated his franchise’s greatest winner with words of condolence, but also a picture. The photo shows Russell at the famed 1967 Cleveland Summit, sitting alongside other black civil rights activists in the sports world, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor).
Sports media personality and founder of The Ringer, Bill Simmons, one of Boston’s most well-known fans, seemed to still be in shock when he reacted to Russell’s passing.
Man… Bill Russell.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) July 31, 2022
One of the most important athletes who ever lived. And one of the greatest. RIP.
Outside of the sports world, comedian Jon Stewart shared a heartwarming story about Russell in his tribute post.
Bill Russell was one of the kindest, most thoughtful people I’ve ever met. Once called out of the blue because he thought I looked sad on TV…best pep talk of my life. RIP— Jon Stewart (@jonstewart) July 31, 2022
And, in a showcase of Russell’s influential reach, former President Barack Obama — who awarded Russell with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011 — had this to say:
Today, we lost a giant.
As tall as Bill Russell stood, his legacy rises far higher—both as a player and as a person.
Perhaps more than anyone else, Bill knew what it took to win and what it took to lead. On the court, he was the greatest champion in basketball history. Off of it, he was a civil rights trailblazer—marching with Dr. King and standing with Muhammad Ali.
For decades, Bill endured insults and vandalism, but never let it stop him from speaking up for what’s right. I learned so much from the way he played, the way he coached, and the way he lived his life.
Michelle and I send our love to Bill’s family, and everyone who admired him.