President Joe Biden’s statement on the passage of Bill Russell

America’s promise is that we are all created equal and deserve equal treatment for the rest of our lives. We never quite lived up to that promise, but Bill Russell made sure we never got away with it.

By August 1963, he had won six of the 11 NBA championships in his 13 years in the league with the Boston Celtics, a defining career that would include five regular-season Most Valuable Player awards, an Olympic gold medal, and a service as well. The first black coach of any major sports league in America.

But on the historic day of August 28, 1963, he was on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as a great champion for freedom, equality and justice as Dr. King gave a dream to the nation.

That was Bill Russell. From childhood in isolated Louisiana to a career playing on the biggest stages of the game at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, Bill encountered the racism and hatred inherent in every part of American life. Still he never gave up. Throughout his life, he forced us to face harsh truths. And to this day, generations of Americans are reflecting on what he means to her, as a person who played up to the essential truth that everyone has the right to be treated with dignity and respect.

Bill Russell is one of the greatest athletes in our history—an all-time champion of champions, and a good man and great American who did everything he could to deliver on America’s promise to all Americans.

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