Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley And More NBA Vets Pay Tribute To Celtics Legend Bill Russell After His Death At 88

Bill Russell on Civil Rights History Project
(Image credit: Library of Congress)

The world of professional sports lost a true one of the greats this past weeked. Bill Russell, the two-time hall of fame inductee who led the Boston Celtics to 11 championships, died at the age of 88. Aside from his work on the basketball court, Russell was also a devoted advocate who fought for racial equality within the sport and in society as a whole. In the wake of his passing, a number of notable NBA veterans are taking the time to pay tribute. This includes the likes of Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and Stephen Curry.

Many would be tempted to say that Michael Jordan is the most formidable player to ever step on a basketball court. But if you ask the subject of The Last Dance (streamable with a Netflix subscription), he’d probably tell you that Bill Russell deserves that title. After Russell’s passing, the Chicago Bull-turned- Charlotte Hornets owner released a statement that was shared on his team’s Instagram account. In it, he lovingly reflected on the late Celtic and what he meant to the sport: 

Michael Jordan’s b-ball contemporary, Charles Barkley, shared similar sentiments about the storied athlete. Inside the NBA, which is still Barkley’s TV home, shared his statement via its social media accounts. The Round Mound of Rebound is known for being honest, and I think we can all agree that his thoughts on the Boston great are spot-on:

Reactions also came from fellow Charles Barkley’s co-hosts, Shaquille O'Neal and Kenny Smith, with the latter reflecting on what it was like to be drafted by Bill Russell years ago. A number of current NBA players have also been sharing their memories of Russell, including Stephen Curry of the championship-winning Golden State Warriors. Curry marked Russell’s passing with a perfect photo and sweet message:

Retired Miami Heat legend Dwyane Wade talks a lot about NBA GOATS, so it’s no surprise that he paid tribute via his Instagram stories. There, the future hall of famer shared a few tributes, one of which was a sweet pic that was taken after Wade won one of his three championships:

Dwyane Wade's Instagram stories

(Image credit: Instagram)

While the late player was a true Celtic to the very end, he earned the respect of so many icons from the team’s cross-conference rival, the Los Angeles Lakers. This includes legendary point guard, businessman and Apple TV+ documentary star Magic Johnson. The always-upbeat legend posted a truly moving tribute to his “idol,” which included a number of wonderful photos: 

Fellow Laker Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was also heavily influenced by the late center and got candid about the man’s legacy in an entry on his blog. The player discussed how he became acquainted with the late Boston Celtic and how the two became advocates during the ‘60s and ‘70s alongside other sports greats like Muhammed Ali and Jim Brown. He summed up this up when he recalled their experience at the 1967 Cleveland Summit, where a number of Black athletes met to determine the sincerity of Ali’s refusal to be drafted by the U.S. Army:

Bill was the most famous member of the summit, other than Jim Brown and Ali, but he never tried to leverage that to influence the rest of us. His approach was logical and dispassionate, encouraging us to listen with open minds to what Ali had to say. That reasonable approach proved to be much more effective than trying to sway us. He knew Ali could speak eloquently and passionately for himself, and that if we were open, we would see the truth in what he said. That was a huge lesson in humility and leadership that guided me for many years after.

It goes without saying that the basketball community and the public at large owe a great deal to Bill Russell. The man, whose name graces the NBA Finals MVP trophy, never typically bragged during interviews. Instead, he seemed more pleased with the progress that’s been made in professional sports since he played. The former player-coach lived to see quite a bit, from the historic 1992 Dream Team to even the NBA bubble being established in 2020 due to the pandemic. He may be gone, but he’ll surely never be forgotten.

We here at CinemaBlend extend our deepest condolences to Bill Russell’s family and loved ones during this time.

Erik Swann
Senior Content Producer

Covering superheroes, sci-fi, comedy, and almost anything else in film and TV. I eat more pizza than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.