In 1999, he accepted a public ceremony at the Fleet Center – Boston Garden’s successor – for the 30th anniversary of his last championship team and retirement as a player as well as his number two retirement. The event was also a fundraiser for the National Mentoring Partnership, whose programs he had helped develop as a board member.
“There are no other people’s children in this country,” he told the crowd. “They are the children of the nation, and I refuse to be at war with them. I will always do whatever I can to make a child’s life better.
He did commercials, signed autographs for serious collectors (for a fee) and gave motivational speeches.
Russell married for the fourth time to Jeannine Fiorito in 2016. His first marriage to Rose Swisher ended in divorce, as did his second marriage to Dorothy Anstett. His third wife, Marilyn Nault, died in 2009 at the age of 59.
Russell had three children from his first marriage – William Jr., Jacob and Karen Kenyatta Russell. William Jr., known as Buddha, died in 2016 at age 58. Russell’s brother, a playwright and screenwriter under the name Charlie L. Russell, died in 2013 at age 81. Complete information about the survivors was not immediately available.
Russell was uncompromising on his principles. “There are two societies in this country, and I have to admit that, to see life as it is and not go completely mad,” he told Sport magazine in 1963, referring to the divide racial. “I don’t work for acceptance. I am what I am. If you like it, that’s fine. Otherwise, I don’t care.
He was also an immensely proud man.
“If you can take something to levels that very few other people can reach,” he told Sports Illustrated in 1999, “then what you do becomes art.”