Russell has been one of the NBA's leading civil rights figures since entering the NBA in 1956.
Celtics Hall of Fame center Bill Russell received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYS on Wednesday night.
Russell is the 27th winner of the award and the first former or current NBA player. The award recognizes those who reflect the spirit, strength and courage of tennis great Arthur Ashe, who was a vocal human rights campaigner for over three decades. Past recipients include Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali and former NC State coach Jimmy Valvano—who won the inaugural honor in 1993.
Five-time NBA champion and former Laker Kobe Bryant introduced Russell before the award's presentation. Samuel L. Jackson, President Barack Obama and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were among those featured in a video honoring Russell.
Russell has long been one of the leading civil rights figures in the sports community. He was in the March on Washington in 1963 and later became the first black coach in NBA history in 1966.
Russell, an 11-time NBA champion and five-time NBA MVP, was honored by Obama with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.