Russell said was “not life threatening” and that he’s recovering in Seattle.
“I had a valve in my heart that had to be replaced and the way you replace it is by open heart surgery,” the 78-year-old Russell told nba.com. “Well, open-heart surgery sounds difficult but this was not an emergency. It was something I had to do. The same operation in an emergency is life threatening. This was not life threatening.
“They took the valve out and replaced it. It only took a couple of hours to do that. I talked to the doctors after and they said they were pleased with the procedure. They said I would be sore after a while and after that, they said I would feel better than I ever did at this point.”
Russell said he has limited activities for now.
“The most I can do now is walk but the two things I enjoy the most, I can’t do this summer. Drive my car, which every summer I drive across the country at least twice, and play golf every day,” he said. “I can’t do either one of those for a while.”
Still, Russell insists, “There was never ever any danger. The reason this was routine was because I was living a clean lifestyle. No drinking, smoking, etc. I’m in good shape.
Russell is regarded as basketball’s all-time greatest champion, winning 11 NBA titles during his playing career and earning a gold medal with Team USA to go along with two NCAA championships at the University of San Francisco. In addition to his five MVP awards, he was named to the All-Star team 12 times. Russell also served as a player/coach and, after he retired, was head coach for the Celtics, Seattle SuperSonics and the Sacramento Kings.
Russell retired as a player in 1969 after 13 seasons. His No. 6 jersey was retired by the Celtics in 1972 and he was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975. The NBA’s Finals MVP award is named in his honor, and he was on hand to present it to Miami Heat forward LeBron James back in June.
President Barack Obama presented Russell with the President Medal of Freedom in 2011.
“Bill Russell is the former Boston Celtics’ Captain who almost single-handedly redefined the game of basketball,” a statement from the White House read. “Russell led the Celtics to a virtually unparalleled string of eleven championships in thirteen years and was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player five times. The first African American to coach in the NBA—indeed he was the first to coach a major sport at the professional level in the United States—Bill Russell is also an impassioned advocate of human rights. He marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and has been a consistent advocate of equality.”