NBA legend Bill Russell was one of 15 awarded the prestigious Medal of Freedom today at the White House by President Obama in an East Room ceremony.
Russell, like NBA standout Michael Jordan, in his early days of playing basketball was cut from his team when his respective team didn't think he had what it took to be a competitive player.
"He got better after that", joked President Obama.
Russell led the University of San Francisco to two championships. In his pro career Russell won 11 championships with the Boston Celtics in the 13 seasons with the team (a record unmatched in any sport).
Russell would go on to become the first African American coach of any Major Leauge sports team.
Whenever Russell's 6"9' frame causes people to ask if he's a basketball player, Russell would reply, “No.” “That’s what I do, that’s not what I am. I’m not a basketball player. I am a man who plays basketball.”
Russell, wearing his official NBA socks with the NBA logo on the sides, joined Stan Musial (left in red), baseball legend and Hall of Fame first baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals; Congressman John Lewis, American hero and giant of the Civil Rights Movement; Warren Buffett, investor, industrialist, and philanthropist; Dr. Maya Angelou, author, poet, educator, producer, actress, filmmaker, and civil rights activist; cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Dr. Tom Little (Posthumous); Gerda Weismann Klein, Jewish Holocaust survivor; artist Jasper Johns; John H. Adams co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council; Chancellor Angela Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany; former president George H.W. Bush, 41st U.S. president; Sylvia Mendez, Mexican Puerto Rican civil rights activist denied entrance in an all-white school; Jean Kennedy Smith, founder of VSA, and John J. Sweeney, President Emeritus of the AFL-CIO.
The Medal of Freedom is America’s highest civilian honor, awarded to individuals who make an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.