Following Bill Russell’s death, his daughter’s account of the racism he faced is being shared on social media.
Russell died on Sunday at the age of 88, with his wife Jeannine by his side, according to a statement posted on Twitter by his family.
Russell was the centerpiece of the Boston Celtics dynasty that won 11 championships in 13 years, making him the most prolific winner in NBA history. His last two NBA championships came as the first Black coach in any major American sport.
Russell, a Hall of Famer, five-time MVP, and 12-time All-Star, also won two college championships and an Olympic gold medal.
“However, Bill’s understanding of the struggle was what illuminated his life,” his family said.
“From boycotting a 1961 exhibition game to expose long-tolerated discrimination, to leading Mississippi’s first integrated basketball camp in the combustible aftermath of Medgar Evans’ assassination, to decades of activism culminating in his receipt of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010, Bill called out injustice with an unforgiving candor that he intended would disrupt the status quo, and with a powerful example that, though never his humble intention.’
Since Russell’s death, a tweet has circulated containing an excerpt from a 1987 column written by Russell’s daughter Karen Russell for The New York Times about the racism her father faced while playing for the Boston Celtics.
“When he first went to Boston in 1956, the Celtics’ only black player, fans and sportswriters subjected him to the worst kind of unbridled bigotry,” she wrote in the article.
She also recalled how her family had returned home from a weekend away to discover that they had been robbed.
“Our house was in shambles, with the word “N***A” spray-painted on the walls. The intruders had poured beer on the pool table and ripped it up. They had smashed most of the trophies in my father’s trophy case “She penned a letter.
“Everyone was upset, and I was terrified and shocked by the mess. The police arrived, and then they left. When my parents unpacked their bedcovers, they discovered that the burglars had defecated in their bed.”
She went on to say that whenever the Celtics played, vandals would tip over her family’s garbage cans.
“My father went to the police station to complain. The police told him that raccoons were responsible, so he asked where he could apply for a gun permit,” she wrote. “The raccoons never came back.”
However, she stated that the “only time we were really scared” was when her father wrote for The Saturday Evening Post about racism in professional basketball.
“He was given the moniker Felton X,” she wrote. “After receiving threatening letters, my parents contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
She also mentioned that when her father received his FBI file years later, it was littered with references to him as “an arrogant Negro who won’t sign autographs for white children.”
Former President Barack Obama was among those who praised Russell.
“We lost a giant today.” “As tall as Bill Russell stood, his legacy—both as a player and as a person—rises far higher,” Obama wrote.
“Bill, perhaps more than anyone else, understood what it took to win and lead. On the court, he was the greatest basketball champion in history. Off the field, he was a civil rights trailblazer, marching alongside Dr. King and standing alongside Muhammad Ali. Bill endured insults and vandalism for decades, but he never let it stop him from standing up for what is right.”
Russell’s family encouraged others to follow in his footsteps.
“We hope that with Bill’s unwavering, dignified, and always constructive commitment to principle, each of us can find a new way to act or speak up,” the family said. “That would be our beloved #6’s final and lasting victory.”