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In tweet, Celtics great Bill Russell calls Trump a coward

Bill Russell received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2011.Bloomberg

Boston Celtics great Bill Russell called President Trump a coward in a recent overnight tweet, as protests demonstrating against police brutality and systemic racism continued throughout the country.

In the Twitter message, Russell said “#Trump you projected your narrative that #TakingAKnee is disrespectful & #UnAmerican it was never about that! You are divisive & a coward. It takes true courage 2 stand 4 what is right & risk your life in the midst of a #pandemic #Proud2kneel #BlackLivesMatter.”

In the tweet, the NBA Hall-of-Famer can be seen kneeling with the Presidential Medal of Freedom bestowed on by then-President Obama in 2011, around his neck. It appears to be a photo Russell has previously tweeted. The recent message also quote-tweeted Trump saying, “We should be standing up straight and tall, ideally with a salute, or a hand on heart. There are other things you can protest, but not our Great American Flag - NO KNEELING!”

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started taking a knee during the national anthem in 2016 as a way to protest police brutality and racial injustice in the US. Kaepernick, who led the 49ers to the Super Bowl, has been exiled from the NFL in recent years, with the quarterback saying he has been blackballed for his role in starting a wave of protests. Kaepernick has insisted all along he was good enough to play in the league.

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Two days ago, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league was wrong for not listening to players fighting for racial equality and encourages them to peacefully protest, as a multitude of demonstrations against systemic racism unfolded nationwide.

Protests have continued locally. Recent demonstrations, which have been held daily in Boston for more than a week, have focused mostly on the killing of George Floyd but also on the killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville and racial inequality at large.

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Floyd, a 46-year-old handcuffed Black man, died on Memorial Day when a white Minneapolis police officer pinned his knee to Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. Taylor, an EMT, was killed in March by police executing a “no-knock” warrant. She would have turned 27 last Friday.

Last week, Russell offered some candid thoughts on the recent protests in the wake of Floyd’s death.

Russell, who won 11 titles with the Celtics and also garnered five league MVPs, was the foundation of the team’s 1960s dynasty. A bronze statue, unveiled outside City Hall in 2013, was considered by some to be a long-overdue tribute to the basketball legend in a city Russell once considered bigoted.

Russell, who became the first Black coach in major professional sports in North America when he was named Celtics player-coach in 1966, has often spoken out on civil rights issues, dating back to his time in Boston. He attended the 1963 March on Washington and was a supporter of Muhammad Ali at a time when the boxer was drawing controversy over his decision not to serve in the military.

“Bill Russell the man is someone who stood up for the rights and dignity of all men,” said Obama at the 2011 Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony.

Christina Prignano and Christopher Price of Globe staff contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was used.

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Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him @Danny__McDonald.