Bill Russell

Those who know of Bill Russell know he was a force to be reckoned with on​ the court. Through his 13 years in the league, he led the Celtics to 11 championships and was recognized with five Most Valuable Player awards. As extraordinarily accomplished as he is on the court, it is his courage and impact on the Civil Rights Movement that inspired former President Barack Obama to award him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. When the Celtics arrived in Jim Crow Kentucky in 1961 to play against the St. Louis Hawks, several of Russell’s fellow Black players were refused service at a coffee shop. In the face of adversity and hate, Russell stood firm when he decided he would refuse to play in that match. Two years later, Bill Russell took part in the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and was seated in the front row of the crowd to hear the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech. He went to Mississippi after the civil rights activist Medgar Evers was murdered and worked with Evers’s brother, Charles, to open an integrated basketball camp in Jackson. He was among a group of prominent Black athletes who supported Muhammad Ali when Ali refused induction into the armed forces during the Vietnam War. His impact didn’t just stop there – in 1966, he became the first Black head coach in all the major sports leagues in the country. Years later, in 2020, many NBA players followed his footsteps in taking an active stand against racial injustice. Bill Russell, a 2022 Robert F. Kennedy Ripple of Hope Award Laureate, was a trailblazer and Civil Rights defender on and off the court.