Celtics Hall of Famer Bill Russell honored at ESPYs with Arthur Ashe Courage Award

Gabby Guerard
July 11, 2019 - 10:53 am

Celtics Hall of Famer Bill Russell was honored at the ESPY Awards Wednesday night in what proved to be a powerful moment.

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Russell, who received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, did not speak upon receiving the honor. But, Kobe Bryant’s touching tribute said all there was to say.

The former Laker began by naming Russell “the greatest winner that sports has ever known” given his 55 consecutive wins in college, back to back NCAA Championships, 11 NBA Championships in just 13 seasons, an Olympic gold medal, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which was awarded by Barack Obama in 2011.

But it wasn’t just about his winnings. It was about the selfless attitude he embodied to get there.

“People know Bill for his cutthroat nature, and he definitely has a cutthroat nature, but what they don’t know is that Bill won by relying on his team to do what they do best,” said Bryant. “For example, he knew he could handle the ball with the best of them, but he knew that (Bob) Cousy was the best of them at handling the ball. That is the definition of true leadership. Vision, trust and sacrifice – that’s what lies at the heart of a champion, and a small sliver of what’s inside the mind of this basketball genius.”

Though, he wasn’t just a leader on the court. He is a leader in his other passion: being a social activist to help create a better tomorrow by fighting against injustices. He participated in the Black Power Movement, was the first NBA player to visit Africa in 1959, and became the first African-American head coach in professional sports history in 1966 as the coach of the Celtics.

“Every generation has a responsibility to teach the next,” Bryant continued. “One thing I learned about Bill was how he drew inspiration from his grandfather, whose motto was, ‘A man has to draw a line within himself, that he will not allow any man to cross.’ Bill learned from that, and added his own motto, ‘You disrespect the line, you disrespect me.’ More than 50 years later, Bill and his grandfather’s mottos still resonate powerfully, and still speak loudly for Bill’s beliefs.”

Russell, 85, received a standing ovation for his efforts on and off the court, following Bryant’s tribute.