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Bill Russell is just the fifth former NBA MVP to pass away

Joshua Rogers August 1, 2022
Bill Russell is just the fifth former NBA MVP to pass away
Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Bill Russell is just the fifth former NBA MVP to pass away. We take a look at the other greats of the game who are sadly not with us any more.

11-time NBA champion Bill Russell has passed away at the age of 88. Russell was part of the Boston Celtics dynasty that won eight straight NBA titles, as well as two as a head coach. He was the first black head coach in any major US Sport.

The Hall of Famer was a five-time MVP and 12-time NBA All-Star, and was also a member of the civil rights movement, marching with Martin Luther King Jr.

Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

His family’s statement

His family posted the news on social media on Sunday July 31, stating Russell died with his wife, Jeannine, by his side. The statement did not give the cause of death.

“Bill’s wife, Jeannine, and his many friends and family thank you for keeping Bill in your prayers,” the statement read.

“Perhaps you’ll relive one or two of the golden moments he gave us, or recall his trademark laugh as he delighted in explaining the real story behind how those moments unfolded.

“And we hope each of us can find a new way to act or speak up with Bill’s uncompromising, dignified and always constructive commitment to principle. That would be one last, and lasting, win for our beloved #6.”

Read the full statement below:

Bill Russell is only the fifth former MVP to pass away

Since 1955-56, the NBA Most Valuable Player Award (MVP) has been given to the best performing player of the regular season. 

Bill Russell has won five MVP awards, tying him with Michael Jordan in second place for most all-time. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has the most with six MVP awards.

However, in almost 70 years, only five former MVPs have passed away. Bill Russell is the latest, following Wilt Chamberlain, Moses Malone, Kobe Bryant, and Wes Unseld.

Wilt Chamberlain, Russell’s great rival, died in 1999 aged 63. Three-time MVP Moses Malone died in 2015 aged 60, and Kobe Bryant tragically died in a helicopter crash in January 2020 aged 41. Former Bullets star Wes Unseld was 74 when he died in June 2020.

As one fan commented on Reddit: “I think this speaks to how young the NBA really is. A lot of the early greats of the league are still alive and we should respect them while they’re still here.”

Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

There are 17 former MVPs aged 50 and over

There are currently 17 former MVPs aged 50 and over. This includes the very first MVP winner, Bob Cousy, who is 93.

The following former MVPs are also 50 and over: Bob Cousy, Bob Petit, Oscar Robertson, Willis Reed, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dave Cowens, Julius Erving, Bob McAdoo, Bill Walton, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, David Robinson and Shaquille O’Neal.

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Joshua is a senior sports writer with over four years' experience in online writing. He graduated with a BA in Ancient History from The University of Manchester before receiving an MA in Sports Journalism from The University of Central Lancashire. He became a trending writer for a leading social publisher and later spent time covering the 2018 World Cup for The Mirror Online. He then moved to a social marketing agency where he acted as website editor. His specialties on The Focus include F1, tennis, NBA, NFL and combat sports.