Hailed by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver as “Basketball’s Babe Ruth,” Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell now shares a timeless honor with Jackie Robinson.
“Bill Russell’s unparalleled success on the court and pioneering civil rights activism deserve to be honored in a unique and historic way,” Silver said in a statement. “Permanently retiring his No. 6 across every NBA team ensures that Bill’s transcendent career will always be recognized.”
Current NBA players who wear No. 6 — including Lakers star LeBron James — will be allowed to continue, but teams cannot issue the number to new players.
Major League Baseball permanently retired No. 42 in honor of Robinson in 1997, a half-century after he broke the sport’s color barrier. Russell became the NBA’s first Black coach in 1966, and he was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2011.
The NBA, which named its Finals MVP award after Russell in 2009, will recognize his career throughout the 2022-23 season. In addition to commemorative jersey patches, a court insignia bearing the Celtics’ clover logo with No. 6 will be placed near the scorer’s table at every arena.
“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,” National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Tamika Tremaglio said. “We are proud to continue the celebration of his life and legacy alongside the league.”
Russell’s No. 6 was previously retired by the University of San Francisco, where he won NCAA titles in 1955 and 1956, and by the Celtics, with whom he played the entirety of his 13-year NBA career from 1956 to 1969.
The leaguewide jersey retirement is just the latest honor to recognize a storied career. At USF, Russell was a two-time all-American and the 1955 NCAA tournament most outstanding player. After winning a gold medal at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, Russell was a five-time MVP, 12-time all-star and 11-time all-NBA selection with the Celtics.
Following his retirement, Russell was inducted to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach, was named to the NBA’s 25th, 35th, 50th and 75th anniversary teams and was given the league’s lifetime achievement award in 2017.