Bill Russell becomes first NBA player to have jersey number retired league-wide

Players currently wearing No. 6 will be allowed to continue.

Bill Russell
Bill Russell’s No. 6 jersey is being retired across the NBA. AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File

Celtics great Bill Russell will become the first NBA player to have his jersey number retired across the league, the NBA announced on Thursday.

Russell, who died earlier this month at 88, is widely considered one of the greatest players in NBA history. He won 11 championships in 13 years with the Celtics — an unprecedented level of success made even more impressive because Russell coached two of those teams in addition to playing on them. He was the first Black head coach in NBA history.

Russell was also a civil rights advocate who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2010. The Celtics put a statue up in Russell’s honor in 2013.


“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.”

According to the NBA, players who already wear the No. 6 will be allowed to continue — the same courtesy extended to MLB players who wore No. 42 when the league decided to retire Jackie Robinson’s number league-wide. Last season, 25 players wore No. 6 — most notably LeBron James.

Across the league, players will have a commemorative No. 6 patch on their jerseys this season. The Celtics will wear an additional honor to Russell on their jerseys, according to the release, which is yet to be announced.

“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.”


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