The death of Bill Russell reverberated across the sports world on Sunday.
The Boston Celtics great and NBA icon passed away at the age of 88. Russell’s family said in a statement that he passed away “peacefully” with his wife by his side.
Tom Brady played with the New England Patriots for 20 years before leaving and joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers just prior to the 2020 season. He was asked about Russell’s death Monday.
“I knew him pretty well. I had a lot of time up there in Boston and got to know him. He was a very impactful figure, even back to my early days with the Patriots. My second year during training camp he came and spoke to our team. A really imposing figure – he had a great presence about him. Obviously, what he overcame in his career was pretty unbelievable,” Brady said.
“It was a sad day.”
Russell was the No. 2 overall pick of the St. Louis Hawks in the 1956 draft. He was picked behind Si Green, who was chosen by the Rochester Royals, and in front of Jim Paxson Sr., who was selected by the Minneapolis Lakers. Russell would go on to score more points than both players combined.
In San Francisco, Russell helped the Dons win two consecutive NCAA titles in 1955 and 1956. He also led Team USA to a gold medal at the 1956 Olympics.
Russell was traded to the Hawks on draft day for Cliff Hagan and Ed Macauley. He would continue his dominance in the pros, leading Boston to 11 championships, including a run of eight straight. He led the NBA in rebounds five times and is only one of two players to record at least 50 rebounds in a game.
Russell broke the coaching color barrier when he became the first Black NBA head coach in history in 1966. He coached Boston to two NBA championships. He would later coach the Seattle SuperSonics and Sacramento Kings.
Off the court, Russell was a significant leader in the fight for equality as he battled racist abuse, and was public about what he saw and heard while he played.
He and other Black teammates boycotted an exhibition game in Kentucky in 1961 after they were refused service at a restaurant. Russell also supported Muhammad Ali’s refusal to be drafted during the Vietnam War.
Russell was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame twice — once as a player and another time as a coach. His No. 6 is retired by the Celtics, and he is the namesake for the NBA Finals MVP award.
During his illustrious career, Russell was a 12-time All-star, 11-time NBA champion, five-time MVP and an 11-time All-NBA selection.