A legend considered one of the greatest sportsmen to ever live has died.
Bill Russell was most known for his 11 NBA Championships with the Boston Celtics, a team he would later go on to coach as the league’s first black coach.
What many don’t know is Russell had ties to the Bay Area. He was born in Louisiana, but grew up here and played high school basketball for McClymond’s in Oakland.
From there, he crossed the Bay to attend the University of San Francisco, which is where his basketball prowess really began to develop. In a documentary, he recounted his first game.
"My first varsity game, played Cal Berkeley, their center was pre-season all-American. First five shots he took, I blocked," said Russell.
Russell said he looked at blocked shots as an offensive maneuver, rather than defensive.
It was during those college years that former San Francisco Mayor, Willie Brown, crossed paths and befriended Russell. Brown was in another part of the city attending San Francisco State University.
"As few Black college students that there were at our age, we interacted with each other socially, fraternal organizations and other kinds of things that young people did in those days," said Brown.
Mayor Brown and the rest of the world watched as Russell turned professional, playing for the Boston Celtics under coach Red Auerbach. Russell recalled an early interaction with his coach.
"I talked with Red my rookie year and he said, ‘Do you know how good you are? You’re the best player who ever played basketball!'"
Russell would go on to rack up an unprecedented 11 championships with the Celtics, and eventually lead the team as the NBA’s first black coach. He also had stints coaching the Seattle Supersonics and Sacramento King’s.
Mayor Brown said over the course of their careers they supported each other as their friendship evolved.
"So, our relationship was one of a friendship in me, and in an adviser capacity with this incredible athlete," said Brown.
Off the court, Russell didn’t hesitate to speak out against racism, especially during the civil rights movement. Mayor Brown says Russell was outspoken, but was not militant, even though he grew up in an area not far from the headquarters of the Black Panther Party, a Black power political organization founded in Oakland.
Tributes for the basketball great have been pouring in via TV shows and social media all Sunday, from athletes to presidents like Barack Obama who tweeted, in part, "On the court, he was the greatest Champion in basketball history." Obama awarded Russell with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.
Warrior’s coach Steve Kerr was one of the many voices praising the life and legacy of Bill Russell Sunday.
"He was an incredible voice in the fight for an equal and just society and during a time when it was very difficult for athletes to speak up. Bill Russell was fearless," said Kerr.
Russell’s wife tweeted that her husband, a champion, icon and advocate, died peacefully, adding that memorial arrangements were in the works and would be announced soon.
Bill Russell was 88.