Michael Jordan: Bill Russell 'Paved the Way' for Every Black NBA Player

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured Columnist IVJuly 31, 2022

OAKLAND, CA - FEBRUARY 13:  Basketball greats Michael Jordan (L) and Bill Russell (R) greet each other prior to the announcement that Washington, DC, home of the Wizards, will host the 2001 All-Star Game, in Oakland, California, 13 February, 2000. Jordan is president of the Wizards' basketball operations and paart owner.  (Photo credit should read ANDY KUNO/AFP via Getty Images)
Photo credit should read ANDY KUNO/AFP via Getty Images

NBA Hall of Famer and Charlotte Hornets chairman Michael Jordan paid his respects to the legendary Bill Russell on Sunday following his death at the age of 88.

Charlotte Hornets @hornets

A statement from Hornets Chairman Michael Jordan on the passing of NBA legend Bill Russell. <a href="https://t.co/RdYcnuCrmb">pic.twitter.com/RdYcnuCrmb</a>

Russell's family released a statement earlier in the day saying the Hall of Famer died peacefully at his wife Jeannie's side.

TheBillRussell @RealBillRussell

An announcement… <a href="https://t.co/KMJ7pG4R5Z">pic.twitter.com/KMJ7pG4R5Z</a>

Around the NBA world, tributed poured in for Russell, who famously won 11 titles in 13 years with the Boston Celtics between 1956-57 and 1968-69:

NBA Communications @NBAPR

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver issued the following statement today regarding the passing of Bill Russell: <a href="https://t.co/DGX6ukOT4b">pic.twitter.com/DGX6ukOT4b</a>

Earvin Magic Johnson @MagicJohnson

This is a tremendous loss for the entire basketball world. Cookie and I are praying for the Bill’s family and loved ones, our NBA family, and the entire basketball community. 🙏🏾 <a href="https://t.co/kJvF5uBZFI">pic.twitter.com/kJvF5uBZFI</a>

Isiah Thomas @IsiahThomas

Rest in peace Bill Russell you were everything we all aspired to be, your winning spirit will live forever my friend. Thank you for your words of wisdom. <a href="https://t.co/rBjFS6nhzW">pic.twitter.com/rBjFS6nhzW</a>

Chris Paul @CP3

Unapologetically himself at all times!! The ultimate leader and just happened to be one of the best hoopers ever! RIP Mr Russell, you will be dearly missed 🙏🏾🕊 <a href="https://t.co/30xXhoGXsj">pic.twitter.com/30xXhoGXsj</a>

Jaylen Brown @FCHWPO

Rest In Peace 🕊thank you for paving the way and inspiring so many Today is a sad day but also great day to celebrate his legacy and what he stood for 💚 <a href="https://t.co/kvDaIsjpGG">pic.twitter.com/kvDaIsjpGG</a>

Russell's accolades were immense. He was a 12-time All-Star, five-time MVP and two-time first-team All-NBA selection, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1975 (as a player) and 2021 (as a coach).

His battles with fellow center Wilt Chamberlain were the stuff of legend, and while Chamberlain was a statistical marvel (and four-time MVP himself), he only managed to secure two titles during his career.

But Russell was also a pioneer and civil rights activist who faced routine racism during his playing career. He was the first Black head coach not only in NBA history but also in the history of United States professional team sports, period.

"I remember at the press conference, probably the second or third question one of the Boston reporters asked me, 'Can you coach the white guys without being prejudiced?'" he recounted to the New York Times' George Vecsey in 2011 about being appointed head coach of the Celtics in 1966. "Now, I didn't recall anybody asking a white coach if he could coach the black guys without being prejudiced. All I said was, 'Yeah.'"

His basketball resume and work in the civil rights movement earned him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011, as awarded by President Barack Obama.

"Bill Russell, the man, is someone who stood up for the rights and dignity of all men," President Obama said at that ceremony. "He marched with [Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.]. He stood by [Muhammad] Ali. When a restaurant refused to serve the Black Celtics, he refused to play in the scheduled game. He endured insults and vandalism, but he kept on focusing on making the teammates who he loved better players and made possible the success of so many who would follow."

At a time when so many people actively rooted for him to fail, he not only stood firmly for what he believed in but also won more titles than all but two NBA franchises (the Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers).

There simply was no stopping Bill Russell.