The NBA is set to honor the late Bill Russell by retiring his No. 6 across the league, the first designation for a former player in league history.
The league and the National Basketball Players Association announced the news on Thursday (August 11), more than three weeks after Russell passed away peacefully on July 31 at the age of 88.
“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.”
NBA players who currently wear the No. 6, such as Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, will be grandfathered in but beginning with the 2022-23 season, no player will be issued No. 6 as a new number.
Russell’s contributions to the league were honored when the league’s Finals MVP award after him in 2009.
“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 won 11 NBA titles during his 13-year career, including eight straight from 1959 to 1966 and two as a player-coach in his final seasons of 1967-68 and 1968-69. He remains second all-time in NBA history in career rebounds (21,620) and rebounds per game (22.5). He holds the NBA’s all-time playoff record for rebounds with 4,104 rebounds and 24.9 boards per game.
The game’s ultimate winner, he won two NCAA titles at the University of San Francisco and in 21 winner-take-all games in his career between college, the Olympics and the NBA – he didn’t lose once. The Celtics retired his jersey in 1972 and his contributions to society in the name of civil rights earned him the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award from President Barack Obama in 2010.
Russell is the third figure among the four major sports to have his jersey retired across the league. In 1997, Major League Baseball retired Jackie Robinson’s 42 to celebrate him breaking the color barrier. Those who wore 42 before the honor were grandfathered in with New York Yankees’ closer Mariano Rivera being the last player to wear the number before he retired in 2013.
The National Hockey League retired Wayne Gretzky’s 99 across the league in 1999 in honor of him being the sport’s all-time scoring leader.
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