Few athletes are as widely respected as Bill Russell. An 11-time champion over 13 years with the Celtics, he has defined class and greatness for several generations of basketball players and fans.
Now he's about to get the highest American honor given to civilians. As announced by the White House on Wednesday, Russell will be one of the 2010 recipients of the Medal of Freedom:
Today, President Obama named fifteen recipients of the 2010 Medal of Freedom -- the Nation's highest civilian honor -- presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors. [...]
Bill Russell is the former Boston Celtics' Captain who almost single-handedly redefined the game of basketball. Russell led the Celtics to a virtually unparalleled string of eleven championships in thirteen years and was named the NBA's Most Valuable Player five times. The first African American to coach in the NBA -- indeed he was the first to coach a major sport at the professional level in the United States -- Bill Russell is also an impassioned advocate of human rights. He marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and has been a consistent advocate of equality.
Russell joins other 2010 honorees like St. Louis Cardinals great Stan Musial, Warren Buffett, civil rights leader and current U.S. Congressman John Lewis, painter Jasper Johns, and former president George H.W. Bush.
It's a well-deserved medal for Russell, who in addition to being a basketball great has stood up for racial injustice throughout his life. His political views and standoffish nature towards fans and the press -- whom he viewed as hypocritical -- didn't make him the most popular member of the Celtics during his playing days, but he is now accepted for something approaching his full personality and range of beliefs.
Congratulations to Russell and the other 14 recipients of this year's Medal of Freedom. The accomplishments of each honoree deserve your attention, so please check out the link above and read up on these deserving winners.