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ESPYs to honor NBA legend Bill Russell with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award

Bill Russell, ESPYs

Hall of Fame center Bill Russell will be honored with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at this year’s ESPY’s, according to several official accounts.

Russell, now 85 years of age, has long been known as an advocate for civil rights and equality. He has participated in several rallies over the years, including the March on Washington in 1963. Russell also defended Muhammad Ali when he refused to join the military based on his religious beliefs.

Though there were some who didn’t agree with his philosophies, Russell became a legendary figure in the NBA. When he retired in 1969, he had 11 NBA championships, 14 All-Star nods and five MVP awards under his belt. Further adding to his legacy, Russell became the first African-American head coach in NBA history.

“Bill Russell got tagged with being antiwhite and rude and everything else,” former teammate Tommy Heinsohn told Boston Magazine in 2010. “But all he really wanted to do was be recognized as an individual. He had been slighted several times, and he was smart enough to recognize it.”

The Arthur Ashe Courage Award is named after tennis great Arthur Ashe, who was the first African-American player selected to the United States Davis Cup team and the only African-American man ever to win the singles title at Wimbledon, the US Open, and the Australian Open. However, he was diagnosed with HIV in 1988.

After going public with his illness, Ashe founded the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS. Sadly, though, he passed away on February 6, 1996, due to AIDS-related pneumonia. According to reports, as many as 5,000 mourners walked by his casket in remembrance.

The Arthur Ashe Courage Award is a sports-related honor, but it is meant for athletes who transcend athletics. Russell certainly fits that mold.

This year’s ESPYs ceremony will be held on Wednesday, July 10, with ESPN having live broadcast coverage.