Remembering a Towering Legend

A tribute to Bill Russell, who died July 31 at the age of 88.

Remembering a Towering Legend

Bill Russell of Mercer Island died Sunday.

Yes, that Bill Russell.

He was the Celtics’ pride. He was the Sonics’ coach. He was a friend of players, celebrities and Presidents.

He was a giant to whom young Black kids looked up. He was the epitome of success. He modeled achievement. He lobbied for civil rights. He stood tall for causes in which he believed (even when it meant taking a knee).

Bill Russell knew how to score both on the hardwood and in the arena of hard discourse. And yet his signature cackling laugh underscored his lifelong sense of humor.

Long before BR came to stand for Baskin-Robbins, those two initials called to mind a legend-in-the-making. And whereas the ice cream giant claimed 31 flavors, this NBA giant boasted a game high of 37 points twice in his career.

Although I was never formally introduced to Bill Russell, I once encountered him in the Mercer Island post office.

I extended my hand to shake his. I was impressed by his imposing height. But there was so much more than his six-feet-ten-inches to admire. He was an imposing influence with which to reckon.

Our community will miss his towering presence. So will our grieving nation.

Peace to his memory!

Greg Asimakoupoulos is Chaplain at Covenant Living at the Shores.


Longtime Mercer Island resident and NBA great Bill Russell passed away at his home on July 31, according to a message on his Twitter feed.

“It is with a very heavy heart we would like to pass along to all of Bill’s friends, fans, & followers: Bill Russell, the most prolific winner in American sports history, passed away peacefully today at age 88, with his wife, Jeannine, by his side.”

Russell lived on Mercer Island for nearly 50 years.

Among his multitude of achievements, the 6-foot-10 Boston Celtics center from 1956-69 notched 11 NBA titles with the Celtics and was a five-time NBA most valuable player and a 12-time NBA all-star.

“But for all the winning, Bill’s understanding of the struggle is what illuminated his life. From boycotting a 1961 exhibition game to unmask too-long-tolerated discrimination, to leading Mississippi’s first integrated basketball camp in the combustible wake of Medgar Evans’ assassination, to decades of activism ultimately recognized by his receipt of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010,” reads his Twitter feed.

According to a previous Reporter article, Russell and 14 others were given the highest honor a U.S. civilian can receive in a ceremony at the White House. The Medal of Freedom is given to people who make contributions “to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”

Russell marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was the first African American to coach in the NBA and the first to coach a major sport at the professional level in the United States, read a press release, which added, in part: “Bill Russell is also an impassioned advocate of human rights (and) has been a consistent advocate of equality.”