Bill Russell (left) battles career rival Wilt Chamberlain for a rebound. (Photo Credit: CC BY-ND/Bet You Didn't Know)

President Barack Obama honored a distinguished group of men and women at the White House Tuesday during the 2010 President Medal of Freedom ceremony, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. Among the honored luminaries were professional sports legends Stan Musial and Bill Russell. Both were shining examples on and off the field, dedicated men who honed their crafts to perfection and earned reputations for good character and valor.

Stan ‘The Man’ Musial’s career

Three-time National League MVP Stan “The Man” Musial played 22 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals (1941-1963), interrupted only by a Naval tour of duty during World War II. Despite his unorthodox approach, the Donora, Pa., native connected at a blistering .331 clip, rapping out 3,630 hits (including 725 doubles and 475 home runs).

The outfielder/first baseman is well-respected as a gentleman and pillar of the St. Louis community who is active in numerous charitable ventures. Today, at 90 years of age, Stan Musial is the elder statesman of the game of baseball and a throwback to a simpler time when it was a joy simply to play the game.

Big Bill was the original minister of defense

Some athletes bring everything they have to the floor, and Bill Russell was no exception. The five-time NBA MVP’s drive to make the Boston Celtics a winner was intense. Thanks to Russell’s defensive strength, manic rebounding, artful passing and timely offense, the Boston Celtics steamrolled the opposition nearly every season of his career (1956-57 to 1968-69).

Russell, 77, gave everything he had off the court, too. As a high-profile black athlete from Monroe, La., who was living in a racially divided country, it was important to Bill Russell that he be active in the American Civil Rights Movement. He marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and remains an advocate for equality today. In 1966, Russell become the first African-American to coach a major pro sport when he became the player-coach of the Boston Celtics, the team he had helped lead to a record 11 NBA titles during his playing career.

Stan Musial and Bill Russell are two of 257 U.S. citizens to win the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Winners are honored for their contributions to U.S. security, world peace and other cultural achievements.

Sources

Bill Russell statistics: http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/r/russebi01.html
Chicago Sun-Times: http://blogs.suntimes.com/sweet/2011/02/obama_honors_stan_musial_bill.html
CBS Sports: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/entry/22748484/27529605
Stan Musial statistics: http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/m/musiast01.shtml

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