NBA to honor Celtics legend Bill Russell with unique distinction
August 11th, 2022
Member of the Boston Celtics 1966 Championship team Bill Russell is honored at halftime of the game between the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat at TD Garden on April 13, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
The NBA announced on Tuesday it will honor the legacy of the late Bill Russell by retiring his No. 6 leaguewide. Russell will be the first player in league history to receive that honor.
“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 from the league. “Permanently retiring his No. 6 across every NBA team ensures that Bill’s transcendent career will always be recognized.”
Russell joins an exclusive group of athletes to have their numbers retired league-wide. Jackie Robinson, who broke the MLB color barrier, was the first in 1997. The NHL retired Wayne Gretzky’s No. 99 upon his retirement in 1999.
25 players wore No. 6 during the 2021-2022 NBA season. That group is highlighted by Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James. James and other players currently wearing the number will still be allowed to wear it under a grandfather cause, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.
In addition to retiring Russell’s number, the league will honor him in other ways this upcoming season. Players on all 30 teams will wear a commemorative patch on the right shoulder of their jerseys, and every NBA court will feature a clover-shaped logo with the No. 6 on the sideline near the scorer’s table.
The Celtics “will have a separate and unique recognition for him on their uniforms, to be announced soon,” according to the league. The franchise originally retired Russell’s No. 6 in 1972.
Russell, who passed away last month at the age of 88, played 13 seasons in the NBA all with the Celtics from 1956-1969. He is an 11-time NBA champion, and 12-time All-Star, five-time MVP.
Towards the end of his career, Russell was named as a player-coach of the Celtics. That made him the first Black head coach in American professional sports, and the first to win a championship when the team did so in 1968, his second season on the job (they’d win again the next year as well).
In addition to his contributions to the game of basketball on the floor, Russell was also incredibly influential in fighting for civil rights. In 2010, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama for his lifelong commitment to social justice.
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarthor via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.