The NBA will honor the legacy of 11-time champion and basketball Hall of Famer Bill Russell by retiring his No. 6 for all 30 teams, the league announced Thursday.
Russell, who died July 31 at the age of 88, becomes the first player in NBA history to have his number retired leaguewide.
The league, along with the National Basketball Players Association, announced that a Russell commemorative patch will be worn on the right shoulder of uniform jerseys, and a shamrock-shaped logo marking the late center’s years with the Boston Celtics (1956-1969) will be used on courts throughout the NBA.
“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 will be allowed to keep their numbers, the league said.
That includes the Lakers’ LeBron James and Kristaps Porzingis of the Washington Wizards, ESPN reported. Twenty-five players wore No. 6 during the 2021-22 NBA season, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
“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.”
A 6-foot, 10-inch center, Russell was a 12-time NBA All-Star and was named the league’s MVP five times, in 1958, 1961, 1962, 1963 and 1965. He collected 21,620 rebounds as the Celtics dominated the NBA during the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s.
Russell was also active in the civil rights movement and was a champion for social justice.
The Celtics’ 11 NBA titles during Russell’s playing days included eight consecutive crowns from 1959 to 1966. Two of the Celtics’ titles came after Russell replaced Red Auerbach after the 1966 season to become the league’s first Black head coach. Russell retired as an active player after the Celtics won the NBA championship for the 1968-69 season.
In 1961, Russell led a boycott against racist behavior after Celtics teammates Sam Jones and Thomas “Satch” Sanders were refused service in a coffee shop at their team hotel in Lexington, Kentucky, The Washington Post reported. His other four Black teammates walked out, along with two Black players for the Celtics’ opponent in an exhibition game that night, the St. Louis Hawks.
In 1969, Russell debated Georgia Gov. Lester Maddox on television about racism, ESPN reported.
After leaving the Celtics, Russell became the head coach and general manager of the Seattle SuperSonics. He resigned after the 1976-77 season.
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