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Others in praise of Bill Russell

President Obama Honors Medal Of Freedom Recipients

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 15: U.S. President Barack Obama (L) presents Basetball Hall of Fame member and human rights advocate Bill Russell the 2010 Medal of Freedom in the East Room of the White House February 15, 2011 in Washington, DC. Obama presented the medal to twelve pioneers in sports, labor, politics and arts. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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Bill Russell is a legend.

A legend in a way we so rarely see athletes be anymore — a powerful force off the court for his beliefs as well as on it. Today taking a stand might get in the way of endorsement deals, so most players (particularly elite ones) steer clear of controversial topics.

Not Bill Russell. And that’s why President Barack Obama gave him the Medal of Freedom Tuesday. It’s the highest civilian award the president can bestow.

A. Sherrod Blakely of Comcast New England collected quotes from a variety of people about Russell, talking about the man, not just the basketball player.

“It’s so well-deserved,” (NBA Commissioner David) Stern told “Not just as an athlete, but a fighter for the rights for all in America. It was thrilling to be here.”

“The best I can say is it’s a great honor that they recognize the man that he is,” (NFL legend Jim) Brown told “But I already knew. If I had to wait until this day to know that, I’d be in terrible shape.”

“When I think of Russell, I think of transcending,” (Celtic Kevin) Garnett said. “If you take Bill Russell out, the young bigs don’t exist. You know, if you take someone out of history a lot of us are not even here. Not only did he transcend on the court, but off the court. Being pro-righteous in what he believed in and speaking up and standing up for that right. Different times back in the day, you know?”

“He’s so funny and interesting because he’ll tell you a story, and he’s got a lot of stories,” (Celtic Ray) Allen said. “No matter if the story is funny or not, he’s going to laugh and since he laughs you laugh and it ends up being a great story he told. I’ve always enjoyed talking to him because I always walk away with a laugh.”

“Bill Russell, the man, is someone who stood up for the rights and dignity of all men,” said Obama. “He marched with (Dr. Martin Luther) King; he stood by (Muhammed) Ali. When a restaurant refused to serve the black Celtics, he refused to play in the scheduled game. He endured insults and vandalism, but he kept on focusing on making the teammates who he loved better players, and made possible the success of so many who would follow.”