From this day forward, July 31 will be a dark day for NBA fans as it will mark the passing of NBA legend and activist Bill Russell. His family have shared the news that he passed away peacefully overnight at 88, leaving behind a legacy that will last even longer.
Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan chose to say a few words after he had time to reflect on the tragic news. Although these two are each one of the greatest to ever pick up a basketball, Jordan and Russell each lived very different lives. Born into a different generation, MJ was able to build on Russell’s greatness to eventually reach the heights he achieved both as a professional and as a person.
Jordan’s statement was originally reported by Shams Charania of Athletics. Here is the full quote regarding what Michael had to say about the impact Russell had on him, the NBA and the world:
“Bill Russell was a trailblazer – as a player, as a champion, as the NBA’s first black head coach and as an activist. He paved the way and set an example for all players black people who came into the league after him, including me. The world has lost a legend. My condolences to his family and many, he rest in peace.
Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan makes a statement regarding NBA legend Bill Russell’s immense impact on basketball and the world at large.
As an 11-time NBA champion and 5-time MVP, Russell left his mark on the game and established himself as one of the top 10 players in league history. In 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics, Russell led his team to the most dominant game of basketball a team had ever seen.
Even against other greats of his day such as Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West, no one was a proven winner quite like Russell. Even when he left American soil to win an Olympic gold medal in Australia, he was a winner. Even when he left the basketball court to fight for the advancement of civil rights, he was a winner.
Among his most significant accomplishments, Russell was the first black head coach of any North American professional sports team. Paving the way for so many other greats to come after him, Russell won two championships as the head coach of his Celtics team.
What’s most interesting about the three years he coached Boston is that he did it while actively playing an important role for the Celtics. He averaged over 40 minutes per game over that three-year span while actively managing a championship-caliber team at the same time.
It’s easy to see why a notorious competition like Jordan would find inspiration from a legend as accomplished as Russell. Fortunately, by the time Michael rose to fame, people like Bill had already finished the hard fight to normalize black men developing their talents outside the 15 by 28 meter dimensions of a basketball court.
Without Russell’s contributions to basketball and the world at large, it’s hard to say if Jordan will ever become the global phenomenon we all know today. There’s no telling if the shoes will ever come off, if we all wanted to “be like Mike”, or if we’ll ever see Bugs Bunny and company go to court in space jam.
Thank you Bill Russell, for advancing the game of basketball and fostering an environment where the Michael Jordans of the world can thrive; Rest in peace.