Yesterday (July 31), Bill Russell’s family took to social media to announce the basketball legend’s passing at the age of 88. In addition to highlighting Russell’s many accomplishments, the statement also made clear the struggles that he endured, as well as his position in the longtime fight against prejudice in America:

“Bill’s understanding of the struggle is what illuminated his life. From boycotting a 1961 exhibition game to unmask too-long-tolerated discrimination, to leading Mississippi’s first integrated basketball camp in the combustible wake of Medgar Evans’ assassination, to decades of activism ultimately recognizing by his receipt of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010, Bill called out injustice with an unforgiving candor that he intended would disrupt the status quo, and with a powerful example that, though never his humble intention, will forever inspire teamwork, selflessness, and thoughtful change.”

Not long after the news, Barack Obama — who awarded Russell the aforementioned medal — posted a photo of the two embracing next to a statue commemorating the athlete in Boston. Accompanying the bittersweet image was Obama‘s tribute to the 11-time NBA champion:

“Today, we lost a giant. As tall as Bill Russell stood, his legacy rises far higher—both as a player and as a person. Perhaps more than anyone else, Bill knew what it took to win and what it took to lead. On the court, he was the greatest champion in basketball history. Off of it, he was a civil rights trailblazer—marching with Dr. King and standing with Muhammad Ali.”

He continued:

“For decades, Bill endured insults and vandalism, but never let it stop him from speaking up for what’s right. I learned so much from the way he played, the way he coached, and the way he lived his life.”

You can take a look at Obama‘s post in full below.