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Seattle basketball icons mourn Bill Russell's death

Russell led the Sonics to their first playoff appearance in franchise history as a coach, and spent his final years living on Mercer Island.
Credit: AP
FILE - NBA great Bill Russell reacts at a news conference as he learns the most valuable player award for the NBA basketball championships has been renamed the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award, Feb. 14, 2009, in Phoenix. Russell has died at age 88. His family said on social media that Russell died on Sunday, July 31, 2022. Russell anchored a Boston Celtics dynasty that won 11 titles in 13 years. (AP Photo/Matt York, file)

SEATTLE — When you think of Bill Russell the player, you think of Boston.

When you think of Bill Russell the coach and the elder statesmen for the game of basketball, you think of Seattle. Russell coached the Supersonics of the NBA for a time, and spent his final years living on Mercer Island.

On Sunday, the Seattle basketball community was thinking of him.

Seattle's NBA icons remember him as someone who paved the way.

"His legacy is forever cemented," Jamal Crawford said.

Crawford had been spending the weekend bringing the who's who of Seattle basketball together.

His Crawsover Pro-Am drew the likes of Nate Robinson, Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren, Trae Young and Dejounte Murray.

The passing of Russell hit close to home for many of them.

"He was the definition of being an unbelievable basketball player but an unbelievable times ten person," Crawford said.

Crawford said his relationship with Russell grew over the last few years.

Russell coached the Seattle Sonics from 1973 to 1977, led the franchise to its first playoff appearance in 1975, and then spent the last 30 years of his life in Mercer Island.

"Just so wise. So brilliant. Every time you were around him you felt like you were getting wisdom," Crawford said.

Credit: AP
Seattle Sonic coach Bill Russell, center, introduces Dennis Johnson, left, and Bob Wilkerson, right, to Seattle media after they signed contracts for the NBA Supersonics, Sept. 3, 1976. Johnson, a 6-feet-4-inch guard, is from Pepperdine while Wilkerson, a 6-feet-7-inch guard, played for the national champion Indiana. (AP Photo)

RELATED: Bill Russell dies at 88: NBA legend set 'powerful example'

Russell became part of the fabric of the Seattle basketball community, and was often spotted courtside at Seattle Storm games and the Crawsover League.

"He just had such an aura and presence about him. I remember him coming here. He got a standing ovation as soon as he walked in. The game stopped. He's the only person the game stopped for and got a standing ovation," Crawford said.

Yet Russell's legacy was even more profound than that.

"He showed us what it's like to be a young, successful, black winner," former Rainier Beach star and former Boston Celtic Nate Robinson said.

Robinson called him a crucial figure in the fight for civil rights.

"He gave us the strength to move forward because we got held back for so many years. We got spit on, beat, whipped, dogs sicced on us and he went through that. He did that so we could run and we could walk and we could play," Robinson said.

"His overall legacy period I don't think can be matched. Everything he stood for, sitting with Muhammad Ali, sitting with Kareem Abdul-Jabaar and standing up for what they believed in, it gave us hope. It gave us more drive to keep going trying to do the right things," Crawford added.

Credit: AP
Seattle SuperSonics great Freddie Brown, left, and former Sonics head coach Bill Russell are shown together prior to Russell throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game between the Seattle Mariners and the New York Yankees, Friday, May 27, 2011, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

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