The number “6” will forever belong to Bill Russell in the NBA. The league and the NBPA agreed to permanently retire Russell’s No. 6 across the NBA. It’s the first time a player’s number has been retired across the league.
Commissioner Adam Silver said the move will ensure Russell’s “transcendent career will always be recognized.”
“Bill Russell’s unparalleled success on the court and pioneering civil rights activism deserve to be honored in a unique and historic way,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. “Permanently retiring his No. 6 across every NBA team ensures that Bill’s transcendent career will always be recognized.”
The news comes less than a month after Russell died at 88.
Russell, it can be argued, was the greatest basketball player of all time. A star with the Boston Celtics, Russell won an unmatched 11 championships in 13 seasons. He won five MVP awards, made 11 All-NBA teams and was a 12-time All-Star over his 13 years in the league. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975.
Russell also excelled as a coach. He became the first Black coach in NBA history in 1966. He led the team to back-to-back championships in 1968 and 1969. Russell was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010 for his basketball excellence and his unwavering commitment to social justice.
NBA players will wear patch honoring Bill Russell
In addition to retiring his number, the NBA will honor Russell with a jersey patch. Every team will wear a commemorative patch on the right sleeve of their jerseys. Every NBA court will honor Russell with a clover-shaped logo featuring the No. 6 on the sideline.
The Celtics will have “a separate and unique recognition” of Russell on their uniforms, per the NBA. The team is expected to announce its plans soon.
Players who currently wear the No. 6 will be allowed to keep the number until they change it voluntarily or retire, per the NBA. That scenario occurred in MLB, where New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera was the last player to wear No. 42 after the league retired Jackie Robinson’s number. Rivera wore the number before the league retired it in 1997 and continued to wear it as a tribute to Robinson.
Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James changed his jersey number to “6” prior to the start of the 2021-22 NBA season. Twenty-three other players wore No. 6 last season, per Basketball-Reference.