Bill Russell, the NBA great who after winning Olympic gold anchored a Boston Celtics dynasty that won 11 championships in 13 years — the last two as the first Black head coach in any major U.S. sport — and marched for civil rights with Martin Luther King Jr., died Sunday. He was 88.
His family posted the news on social media, saying Russell died with his wife, Jeannine, by his side. The statement did not give the cause of death.
“Bill’s wife, Jeannine, and his many friends and family thank you for keeping Bill in your prayers. Perhaps you’ll relive one or two of the golden moments he gave us, or recall his trademark laugh as he delighted in explaining the real story behind how those moments unfolded,” the family statement said. “And we hope each of us can find a new way to act or speak up with Bill’s uncompromising, dignified and always constructive commitment to principle. That would be one last, and lasting, win for our beloved #6.”
A Hall of Famer, five-time Most Valuable Player and 12-time All-Star, Russell in 1980 was voted the greatest player in the NBA history by basketball writers. He remains the sport’s most prolific winner and an archetype of selflessness who won with defense and rebounding while leaving the scoring to others. Often, that meant Wilt Chamberlain, the only player of the era who was a worthy rival for Russell.
The battles on the court between the centers were fierce — signature showdowns in the NBA. Russell led the University of San Francisco to NCAA championships in 1955 and 1956 and won a gold medal at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.
Russell, then 22, scored a team-leading 14.1 points per game as the U.S. won all eight games in Melbourne by an average of 53.5 points per game.
“The gold medal is very, very, very precious to me,” Russell said in an interview for NBC’s Olympic Show in 1999. “In terms of trophies and things, it’s probably my most prized possession.”
Russell could have skipped those Games, which were held during the NBA season in November and December, but instead delayed the start of his Celtics career.
“Ever since I was a kid, there were social and physical icons that I always heard about. And you think of these things in awe. And when I got to the age where I qualified for the Olympics, I wanted to go,” Russell said, according to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum. “Then, the honor of The Olympics was to compete. Not to win, but to compete. I really wanted that. If I hadn’t made that Olympic basketball team, I was going to participate in the high jump. I was ranked second in the country in the high jump [Editor’s Note: Track and Field News ranked Russell third in the U.S. and seventh in the world in 1956], so either way, I was going to Melbourne. I wanted to be a part of that Olympic experience.”
Russell‘s gold medal sold for $587,500 as part of an auction of hundreds of his personal memorabilia items last December.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement that Russell was “the greatest champion in all of team sports.”
“Bill stood for something much bigger than sports: the values of equality, respect and inclusion that he stamped into the DNA of our league. At the height of his athletic career, Bill advocated vigorously for civil rights and social justice, a legacy he passed down to generations of NBA players who followed in his footsteps,” Silver said. “Through the taunts, threats and unthinkable adversity, Bill rose above it all and remained true to his belief that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity.
In Boston, Russell left a lasting mark as a Black athlete in a city — and country — where race is often a flash point. In 2011, President Barack Obama awarded Russell the Medal of Freedom. Two years later, a statue of Russell was unveiled on Boston’s City Hall Plaza.
“I cherished my friendship with Bill and was thrilled when he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom,” Silver said in his statement. “I often called him basketball’s Babe Ruth for how he transcended time. Bill was the ultimate winner and consummate teammate, and his influence on the NBA will be felt forever. We send our deepest condolences to his wife, Jeannine, his family and his many friends.”
His family said that arrangements for Russell’s memorial service will be announced in the coming days.
An announcement… pic.twitter.com/KMJ7pG4R5Z
— TheBillRussell (@RealBillRussell) July 31, 2022
MELBOURNE, Australia — Oh-so-close to completing a straight-set upset of No. 2 seed Casper Ruud at the Australian Open, Jenson Brooksby frittered away three match points, sat down at a changeover and began yelling at himself.
“How?! How?! God!!”
His face was flush, his emotions unhidden, his game unraveling. Soon enough, that set slipped away, as Ruud’s confidence seemed to surge and Brooksby’s collapse momentarily continued. And then, in a blink, Brooksby was back in charge, taking command immediately in the fourth set along the way to a 6-3, 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-2 victory over Ruud and a spot in a surprisingly American-filled third round at Melbourne Park.
“I was getting a little more frustrated out there that I didn’t close it out, and my mentality was changing a little bit,” said the 39th-ranked Brooksby, who sipped from little jars of pickle juice in the fourth set at Rod Laver Arena. “Those are the situations you have to handle sometimes in matches, and you’re going to face. I think the biggest question is: How do you respond? I just told myself to reset.”
So leave it to a pair of 20-something Californians to rid the men’s bracket of its two highest seeded players: Brooksby, 22, delivered his unexpected triumph at the same stage and in the same stadium that Mackenzie McDonald, 27, defeated No. 1 seed and defending champion Rafael Nadal a day earlier. That makes this the first Grand Slam tournament since the 2002 Australian Open that the Nos. 1-2 seeds lost before the end of the second round.
AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men
Nadal owns a men’s-record 22 Grand Slam titles. Ruud was the runner-up at the French Open to Nadal last June and at the U.S. Open to Carlos Alcaraz last September.
Their exits are a big deal and make nine-time champion Novak Djokovic — who overcame a medical timeout for a hamstring injury to beat Enzo Couacaud 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-0 on Thursday night — even more of a title favorite in his return to Australia after being deported a year ago because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19.
Also a big deal: The progress of U.S. men through the year’s first major championship. None has won a Grand Slam title since Andy Roddick at the 2003 U.S. Open.
By reaching the third round, Brooksby joined countrymen Michael Mmoh, Ben Shelton, Tommy Paul and J.J. Wolf, who also won Thursday, along with McDonald, No. 16 Frances Tiafoe and No. 29 Sebastian Korda, who all won Wednesday. The highest-seeded American man, though, could not make it that far: No. 8 Taylor Fritz bowed out with a 6-7 (4), 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-2 loss to 113th-ranked Australian wild-card entry Alexei Popyrin.
Mmoh, who lost in qualifying but got into the main draw when another player withdrew, made it this far at a major tournament for the first time by defeating No. 12 Alexander Zverev 6-7 (1), 6-4, 6-3, 6-2.
“Life is crazy. Right when you think everything is looking dim, everything is looking dark, there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” the 107th-ranked Mmoh said. “My week is proof of that.”
Shelton, the NCAA champion from the University of Florida participating in just his second Slam, beat qualifier Nicolas Jarry of Chile 7-6 (3), 7-6 (3), 7-5; Paul came back to edge No. 30 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain 6-2, 2-6, 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-4; and Wolf breezed past No. 23 Diego Schwartzman of Argentina 6-1, 6-4, 6-4.
Brooksby now plays Paul; Mmoh takes on Wolf.
“A lot of Americans doing really well right now, and we’re all pushing each other,” Brooksby said. “Just looking forward to the next one.”
There was also a big win for an American woman Thursday: 21-year-old qualifier Katie Volynets defeated No. 9-seeded Veronika Kudermetova of Russia 6-4, 2-6, 6-2.
Elsewhere, No. 4 Caroline Garcia beat 2021 U.S. Open finalist Leylah Fernandez 7-6 (5), 7-5, No. 5 Aryna Sabalenka improved her 2023 record to 6-0 by topping Shelby Rogers 6-3, 6-1 after trailing 3-1 early, and No. 19 Ekaterina Alexandrova defeated Taylor Townsend 1-6, 6-2, 6-3.
“I literally have the chills, because the fans here are just incredible,” said Volynets, who reached the third round of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time. “I’ve never played in a stadium this packed and with that many people keeping the energy up for me. It was awesome.”
Brooksby was supposed to enter the Australian Open a year ago but came down with COVID-19 the day before he was supposed to fly overseas.
“Hopefully this is the first of many many good years here to come,” Brooksby said.
His unusual playing style, including his two-handed backhand volleys, and ability to track down opponent’s shots, were trouble for Ruud, who took a medical timeout after the second set because of a bothersome abdominal muscle.
“He was annoyingly good today,” said Ruud, a 24-year-old Norwegian coached by his father, a former pro player.
The biggest problem for Brooksby was closing this one out. He held a trio of match points while trying to serve for the victory at 5-3 in the third set but could not cash any of them in.
Ruud raced through the end of that set, but Brooksby righted himself in the fourth, jumping out to a 3-0 lead. Brooksby finished things off 1 hour, 15 minutes after his first chance.
When the match ended, Brooksby said, “The first thing that popped to my mind was I was just proud of my mental resolve just to stay focused out there.”
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Attorneys representing Usain Bolt demanded that a missing $12 million be returned to Bolt by Jan. 27, according to a letter sent to a Jamaican financial institution.
In the letter to Stocks and Securities Ltd. (SSL), an attorney wrote that Bolt’s account with SSL had $12,750,181.74 on Oct. 31, 2022. The balance is now $12,047.65, but Bolt has not made a withdrawal or transfer.
“We are now frighteningly instructed that mysteriously our client’s said account has been depleted,” the attorney wrote. “If this is correct, and we are hoping it is not, then a serious act of fraud, larceny or a combination of both have been committed against our client.”
The attorney wrote in Monday’s letter that, if the $12 million is not paid to Bolt within 10 days, legal action will be taken.
Last week, SSL said it became aware of fraudulent activity by a former employee, according to Jamaican media, which reported that Bolt wasn’t the only person whose account was affected.
SSL’s website states, “We understand that clients are anxious to receive more information and assure you that we are closely monitoring the matter throughout all the required steps and will alert our clients of the resolution as soon as that information is available.”
Last week, the Jamaica Financial Services Commission announced an investigation after “reports of allegations of fraud” at SSL. Then on Tuesday, the FSC said it assumed temporary management of SSL.
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