Bill Russell’s life and legacy were unlike any other in NBA history: 11-time NBA champion, twice as a player/coach (the first Black head coach in any major American professional sport), someone who changed the game using his athleticism and high IQ on defense, but more important than all that he was a civil rights icon who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. and stood up to racism in Boston and around the nation at the height of the civil rights movement.
There was only one fitting way to honor his legacy: The NBA is retiring the No. 6 of Bill Russell across the entire league.
“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.”
“This is a momentous honor reserved for one of the greatest champions to ever play the game,” NBPA Executive Director Tamika Tremaglio added. “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.”
Beyond this retirement, there will be a commemorative patch on the right shoulder of every NBA player’s jersey this season, and every NBA court will display a clover-shaped logo with the No. 6 on the sideline near the scorer’s table. In Boston, there will be much more to honor one of their all-time greats, but the details have yet to be announced.
Players currently wearing No. 6 — LeBron James among them — can continue to wear it until they retire, however, nobody new can wear the number across the league. This is how Major League Baseball honored the groundbreaking career and life of Jackie Robinson.
There had been a groundswell for Russell to receive this honor, including one Hall of Famer who was on board with it.
Commissioner Adam Silver should retire number 6 across the @NBA in honor of Bill Russell’s legacy!
— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) August 2, 2022
The NBA Finals MVP trophy is named after Russell — he was on the stage to hand it to Stephen Curry this year — and that will remain. However, it also didn’t feel like enough for a legend of Russell’s stature.
Russell’s death last month brought a flood of tributes, not only from sports stars but also three United States presidents felt the need to express their love and admiration of the man.