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Oakland’s legendary Bill Russell dies at 88

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Flickr / Creative Commons
The late Bill Russell (left) sitting next to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

A native of Louisiana, Russell moved with his family to West Oakland when he was eight years old. A tall, awkward youth, Russell attended McClymonds High School, where he began developing his basketball fundamentals – leading the Warriors to two state championships.

A late bloomer, Russell was ignored by most college recruiters before he received a scholarship to the University of San Francisco. Along with teammates K.C. Jones and Hal Perry, the Dons became the first major college basketball squad to start three African-Americans. In his junior and senior seasons, Russell led USF to two consecutive NCAA championships – winning a then record 55 straight games.

In 1956, Russell captained the USA’s men’s basketball team to the Olympic gold medal in Melbourne, Australia.

The same year, he joined the NBA’s Boston Celtics, dominating the game with his defense and rebounding. He led Boston to 11 titles during his 13 year career. In 1966, he became Boston’s player-coach – the first African American to hold the position in major team sports.

Russell used his prominence to speak out against racial injustice.