Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell died this past weekend, after a decades-long career as an all-star player, coach, and civil rights activist.
We asked our readers to share the moments from Russell’s life and career that stand out the most. Ahead you’ll find career highlights and personal memories from eight readers sharing why they love and respect the 11-time championship winner.
To share your own memories of the iconic player, read to the end.
Some responses may be edited for length and clarity.
‘Greatest professional athlete of all time’
“On April 25, 1965, I had the pleasure of sitting near mid-court and seeing Mr. Russell and the other great Celtics defeat the Lakers for the Championship. I had been to the Garden many times before, and each time I marveled at his leadership qualities and the fact he was driven for success and that of his team. He was and will always be my hero, not just for what he did on the court, but just as important, for what he stood for off the court.
“I remember one offensive play in particular when #6 got the ball at the top of the key and he threw an overhead no-look pass to #15 for a layup. He was driven to be the best he could be and we all can take a page from his life. Thank you, Mr. William Felton Russell.” — James D., Bangor, Maine
“Bill Russell was the greatest professional athlete of all time. Eleven championships bear that out. I saw him play many times at the old Garden. His presence and dominance on the court was awesome to see. His last game — Game 7 of the ’69 NBA championship against Wilt, Jerry West, and the Lakers in LA — was my favorite. The Celts were big-time underdogs in that series, but they gutted it out and won.
“I saw it on TV; I was 16 years old and never was more excited to watch a game. The fourth quarter was incredible. Jerry West was chosen as the Finals MVP (on a losing team!). But I knew who the MVP really was — it was Russell. West wrote a book about his career and mentioned that game. The Lakers owner at the time set up purple and yellow balloons in a net atop the court, to be dropped when the Lakers won. Russell saw them when the Celts were warming up prior to the game, which only added to Bill’s fire and determination. He pointed to those balloons prior to the game and told West, ‘Hey Jerry, those goddamn balloons are staying up there!’ And stay up they did!
“The city of Boston was blessed to have not only a great ball player but a great man in Bill Russell. A champion on and off the court. RIP Number 6.” — Alfonse, Norton
“Growing up there was always an NBA game on Sunday. Celtics vs. Philly or Celtics vs Lakers and it was Russ vs. Wilt. I always cheered for Russ thinking he was the underdog, but I guess I was wrong. He was the best player ever! The one game I remember was in Los Angeles. Wilt did not play in the second half, said his leg hurt. Not true — he just did not want any more of Bill Russell. Thanks for the memories, Bill. RIP.” — Will L., Canton
Meeting a legend
“In the summer of 1968, I was a 17-year-old high school basketballer from New Hampshire and I went to Red Auerbach’s basketball camp in Millbrook, Mass. Bill Russell was there. I stood next to him on the court in complete awe! He gave me some pointers on the game I had loved since I was a small child.
“It’s hard to even speak when you’re 17 years old and you’re a nobody and you’re standing next to such greatness! He’s a man for the ages. He is a great American and a great human being and we all can never, ever afford to forget a guy like this.” — Mike W.
“I was training to be a medical lab technician at the Boston Dispensary and was on rotation for blood bank training at St. Elizabeth Hospital. This was about 60 years ago. Mr. Russell needed to get an inoculation for an overseas trip and his doctor brought him into the blood bank for privacy. I asked for it and he gave me his autograph. He was very nice, and it was quite a thrill for me.” — Judy Muse, Wakefield
A champion for civil rights
“Eleven rings + one gold metal + two NCAA Championships = GOAT. First Black coach + champion for civil rights = hero. Boston City Hall, TD garden, and the city of Boston [should] do more to commemorate this great man.” — Frank G., Sudbury
“I have watched in-depth interviews with Mr. Russell. In addition, I read the book he published about 12 years ago or so entitled, ‘Red and Me.’ More important than being the greatest champion in modern American sports was the impact he made in our world as a person. He spoke with true conviction and appeared to form strong bonds with so many people he crossed paths with.” — Jim R., Portsmouth, N.H.
“Bill Russell walked this earth as a human, not the superstar that he inarguably was. He acted unselfishly in both his trade and within the world, expecting decent work and principled action from all people, while relentlessly demonstrating in action the high road on which we should all walk. Bless his family, and us all for this loss.” — S. Maguire, Lynn