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Celtics' Legend Russell Praised For On-, Off-Court Achievements06:02
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In 2009, former NBA great Bill Russell reacts to the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player trophy being named for him. (AP)
In 2009, former NBA great Bill Russell reacts to the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player trophy being named for him. (AP)

Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell has no shortage of accolades — he's a 12-time All Star, 11-time NBA champion, five-time MVP, two-time NCAA champ and Olympic gold medalist. Russell was the first African-American coach of a major pro sports franchise in the country and the first African-American inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Tuesday, he'll add one more: Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient.

Russell is among 15 people accepting the nation's highest civilian honor Tuesday at the White House. He's being honored as an "impassioned advocate of human rights."

He reflected on his life beyond basketball, in a 2009 interview with WBUR's On Point.

"I don't like bullies. I don't like people who would take advantage of people who can't defend themselves. That was part of the way I conducted my off-court activities," Russell said.

Aram Goudsouzian, a Winchester native and author of the 2010 book, "King of the Court: Bill Russell and the Basketball Revolution," joined Morning Edition Tuesday to discuss Russell's on-and-off-court achievements.

Russell was an outspoken critic of what he saw as racist institutions both in sports and beyond, especially in Boston.

"In the mid-1960s you could say that [Russell] was probably Boston’s most visible critic in terms of its race relations,” Goudsozian said, “…[H]e was one of those who was really pointing out that there was de facto segregation in Boston schools. He was active in the civil rights movement in a way that athletes very rarely were.”

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This program aired on February 15, 2011.

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Bob Oakes has been WBUR's Morning Edition anchor since 1992.

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