The NBA will honor 11-time champion and all-time great Bill Russell by retiring his No. 6 for all 30 teams, making him the first player to receive such an honor.
A Russell commemorative patch on the right shoulder of jerseys and a shamrock-shaped logo with the No. 6 on courts will be used across the NBA as well for the 2022-23 season, the league and National Basketball Players Association announced Thursday.
“Bill Russell’s unparalleled success on the court and pioneering civil rights activism deserve to be honored in a unique and historic way,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “Permanently retiring his No. 6 across every NBA team ensures that Bill’s transcendent career will always be recognized.”
Players who currently wear No. 6 — including Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James and the Washington Wizards‘ Kristaps Porzingis — can continue to use the number, which will not be issued again to any player, the league said. A total of 25 players wore No. 6 during the 2021-22 season, according to Basketball Reference.
Russell died July 31 at the age of 88.
The Boston Celtics great was the most prolific winner in NBA history, an 11-time champion during a 13-year career — winning the last two of those titles as a player-coach — and the first Black coach in any of the major U.S. pro sports to win a championship.
The Celtics have “separate and unique recognition for him on their uniforms” planned, the NBA said.
“This is a momentous honor reserved for one of the greatest champions to ever play the game,” NBPA executive director Tamika Tremaglio said in a statement. “Bill’s actions on and off the court throughout the course of his life helped to shape generations of players for the better and for that, we are forever grateful. We are proud to continue the celebration of his life and legacy alongside the league.”
Russell was also known for his work in civil rights. He marched with Martin Luther King Jr., stood with Muhammad Ali and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama.
Having his number retired leaguewide puts Russell in a very exclusive club.
Major League Baseball permanently retired No. 42 in 1997 in honor of Jackie Robinson, who broke the big league’s color barrier, with the understanding that those who were wearing that number could continue to do so. Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees was the last in the majors to wear No. 42, doing so through his final season in 2013.
The NHL, upon Wayne Gretzky’s retirement in 1999, said his No. 99 would be retired leaguewide in honor of that sport’s all-time scoring leader.
And now, Russell gets the same treatment. It seems fitting that he and Robinson — both barrier-breakers — are linked again. Russell called Robinson a hero, once saying that “he showed me the way to be a man in professional sports.”
Robinson clearly held Russell in high esteem as well. Rachel Robinson, his widow, asked Russell to be a pallbearer at her husband’s funeral in 1972.
There have been more than 250 players in NBA history to wear a No. 6 jersey, and Russell is one of 12 players enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame who wore No. 6 at some point in their careers. The others: Julius Erving, Patrick Ewing, Ben Wallace, Don Barksdale, Chuck Cooper, Larry Costello, Tom Gola, Cliff Hagan, Alex Hannum, Buddy Jeanette and Neil Johnston.
Nobody has worn No. 6 for the Celtics since Russell’s final season in 1968-69.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Source : ESPN