Barack Obama reacts to Bill Russell's passing with touching statement


The world lost much more than a basketball star Sunday.

Boston Celtics legend and Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Russell passed away Sunday at age 88, prompting an outpouring of tributes from current and former NBA stars who remember the 11-time champion as the greatest winner in American professional sports.

Tatum, Pierce, C's stars honor Bill Russell with outpouring of tributes

But Barack Obama knows Russell's legacy extends well beyond the court. The former U.S. president reflected on Russell's legacy Sunday afternoon in a series of heartfelt tweets.

"Today, we lost a giant. As tall as Bill Russell stood, his legacy rises far higher—both as a player and as a person," Obama wrote. "Perhaps more than anyone else, Bill knew what it took to win and what it took to lead.

"On the court, he was the greatest champion in basketball history. Off of it, he was a civil rights trailblazer—marching with Dr. King and standing with Muhammad Ali.

"For decades, Bill endured insults and vandalism, but never let it stop him from speaking up for what’s right. I learned so much from the way he played, the way he coached, and the way he lived his life.

"Michelle and I send our love to Bill’s family, and everyone who admired him."

Russell's active participation in the American Civil Rights movement -- from participating in the March to Washington in 1963 to publicly supporting boxer Muhammad Ali's decision to avoid the Vietnam War -- helped him earn the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which Obama presented to the Celtics legend in 2011.

That Russell made such a powerful impression on a former U.S. president for his work off the court in addition to being one of the greatest players in NBA history is a testament to the outsized impact Russell made in all walks of life over his 88 years.

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