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Former president Barack Obama pays tribute to Bill Russell: ‘Today, we lost a giant.’

Then-President Barack Obama (left) awarded Bill Russell the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.Bloomberg

Tributes to the late Bill Russell poured in after the basketball legend’s death on Sunday, with former president Barack Obama expressing his admiration and condolences on social media.

“Today, we lost a giant,” Obama wrote on Twitter. “As tall as Bill Russell stood, his legacy rises far higher—both as a player and as a person.

“Perhaps more than anyone else, Bill knew what it took to win and what it took to lead. On the court, he was the greatest champion in basketball history. Off of it, he was a civil rights trailblazer—marching with Dr. King and standing with Muhammad Ali.


“For decades, Bill endured insults and vandalism, but never let it stop him from speaking up for what’s right. I learned so much from the way he played, the way he coached, and the way he lived his life. Michelle and I send our love to Bill’s family, and everyone who admired him.”

As president in 2011, Obama awarded Russell the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, for his contributions to the civil rights movement. The medal was bestowed upon Russell alongside a pair of fellow civil rights activists, Congressman John Lewis and poet Maya Angelou.

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