Washington (August 17, 2022) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) led the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation in introducing a resolution honoring Boston Celtics legend William “Bill” Felton Russell. Russell was the number two pick in the 1956 NBA draft. A decade later, he became a player-coach for the Celtics and the first Black head coach of a major U.S. professional sports team. In his 13-year career with the Celtics, he led the team to 11 NBA championships, won the NBA’s most valuable player award five times, and was a 12-time All Star. The introduction follows an announcement from the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) that Russell’s uniform No. 6 will be permanently retired across the NBA.
Russell matched his achievements on the basketball court with an enduring commitment to advancing civil rights and racial justice in America. In 1963, Russell marched with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington. That same year, Russell encouraged demonstrations against the segregation of Boston public schools. And in 1967, he took part in the Cleveland Summit to join Black athletes supporting Muhammad Ali’s refusal to enter the military after he was drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. For these efforts and more, in 2011 President Barack Obama awarded Bill Russell the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in America.
“Bill Russell was a hero, a disruptor, a leader, a giant,” said Senator Markey. “He was brilliance, fairness, and justice personified. The greatest winner in the history of all sports and the conscience of our city and country. We honor Bill Russell’s legacy as a Celtic, a champion, and a crusader. With a heavy heart, we express our deepest condolences to his friends and family and his fans for this loss.”
“Bill Russell was a legend on and off the court,” said Senator Warren. “Not only did he help lead the Celtics to an astounding 11 NBA championships, but he was also committed to courageous and righteous fights—marching alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking out against segregation in Boston public schools during the prime of his career, and regularly championing civil rights and racial justice. I’m thankful to partner with Senator Markey and Representative Pressley to honor his legacy.”
“Bill Russell was an undisputed champion both on the court and off, and he was an unapologetic advocate for a more just and equitable world. But most importantly, he was a man with a family and beloved community,” said Congresswoman Pressley. “Congressional intent is powerful, and a resolution is a statement of Congress’ appreciation for Bill Russell’s endless contributions throughout his lifetime. I give my heartfelt condolences to his loved ones. May he rest in peace & power.”
“Bill Russell stands alone as the greatest champion in the history of team sports. He was a remarkable 21-0 in winner take all games, and my personal favorite athlete of all time. But what sets him apart from everyone else was his lifetime of activism for civil rights,” said Congressman Bill Keating. “Bill Russell never cowered from speaking up for what was right and just, and his legacy is so much more than that of a Celtics’ legend – his legacy is that of a giant who never cowered from risking it all to make our world a better place.”
“Bill Russell stood taller than anyone on the basketball court, and he had the courage to risk his celebrity to stand up for justice in Boston and across the United States,” Congressman Seth Moulton said. “Yes, we are grateful that the greatest champion in sports is a Celtic, but we are also thankful he was an unparalleled champion for the rights and dignity of all of us. May he rest in power.”
“For so many here in Massachusetts and across our nation, Bill Russell is an inspiration. Those of us who have followed Bill’s career for decades know that both on and off the court, he always worked to improve the people around him,” said Congresswoman Lori Trahan. “There’s no question that our Commonwealth and our country are better off today because of his tenacity, his advocacy, and his leadership. I’m honored to join with my colleagues to introduce this resolution to honor Bill’s life and legacy.”
Read the full text of the resolution HERE.