US basketball legend Bill Russell’s number 6 jersey is being retired across the National Basketball Association (NBA).
- The NBA will permanently retire the jersey number for all teams
- Players like LeBron James, who currently wears the number, can continue to wear it until their careers end
- Russell, an 11-time NBA champion, died on July 31 at age 88
The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association made the announcement on Thursday, permanently retiring the number worn by the 11-time champion and civil rights activist, who was good enough to have been enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach.
Russell is the first player to have his number retired league-wide.
The Boston Celtics star died at age 88 on July 31.
“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.
“Permanently retiring his number 6 across every NBA team ensures that Bill’s transcendent career will always be recognised.”
Players who currently wear number 6 — including the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James — may continue doing so.
But the number cannot be issued again, the league said.
All NBA players will wear a patch on the right shoulder of their jerseys this season, the league said, and every NBA court will display a clover-shaped logo with the number 6 on the sideline near the scorer’s table.
The Celtics have “separate and unique recognition for him on their uniforms” planned, the NBA said.
Russell 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 US pro sports to win to championship.
He marched with Martin Luther King Jr, stood with Muhammad Ali and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama.
And having his number retired league-wide puts him in a very exclusive club.
Major League Baseball (MLB) retired civil rights icon Jackie Robinson’s number 42 jersey across the league in 1997.
Robinson broke professional baseball’s color barrier 50 years earlier by becoming the first Black player to play in the major leagues in the modern era.
On April 15 each year, every MLB player wears the number 42 in honor of Robinson.
The NHL, upon Wayne Gretzky’s retirement in 1999, said his number 99 would be retired league-wide in honor of that sport’s all-time scoring leader.
And now, Russell gets the same treatment.
Russell called Robinson a hero, once saying that “he showed me the way to be a man in professional sports.”
Robinson held Russell in high esteem as well.
Rachel Robinson, her widow, asked Russell to be a pallbearer at her husband’s funeral in 1972.