In The Know

NBA to retire Celtics legend Bill Russell’s No. 6 jersey league-wide

NBA great Bill Russell reacts at a as he learns the most valuable player award for the NBA basketball championships has been renamed the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award during a news conference Feb. 14, 2009 in Phoenix.
Matt York/Associated Press
NBA great Bill Russell reacts at a as he learns the most valuable player award for the NBA basketball championships has been renamed the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award during a news conference Feb. 14, 2009 in Phoenix.

The NBA has announced that late Boston Celtics legend Bill Russel’s No. 6 jersey number will be retired league-wide, becoming the first player to have his number retired across the league. 

In a joint news release alongside the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), the league said it plans to honor Russell’s legacy throughout the duration of the upcoming 2022-23 regular season. 

Those plans include players wearing a commemorative patch on the right shoulder of their jerseys and every league court displaying a clover-shaped logo with the No. 6 on the sideline near the scorer’s table. 

The Celtics, where Russell spent his illustrious playing and coaching career, will have a separate recognition for Russell on their uniforms, the league said. 

The league also said that active players who currently wear No. 6, which includes Washington Wizards center Kristaps Porzingis and Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, will be grandfathered by the league, meaning they will be allowed to wear No. 6 for the remainder of their careers. 

“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.”

In a separate statement, NBPA Executive Director Tamika Tremaglio said the retirement of Russell’s No. 6 is “a momentous honor reserved for one of the greatest champions to ever play the game.” 

“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,” Tremaglio added. “We are proud to continue the celebration of his life and legacy alongside the league.”

Russell joins baseball legend Jackie Robinson and hockey great Wayne Gretzky as the only three athletes to have their numbers retired by a professional sports league.

Russell, an 11-time NBA champion and Olympic gold medalist, died late last month at the age of 88. 

Russell, who was the first Black coach in league history, also established his legacy as a civil rights pioneer off the court, marching with Martin Luther King Jr. and supporting boxing legend Muhammad Ali’s refusal to be drafted into the military during the Vietnam War. 

Many politicians and prominent figures expressed their condolences following Russell’s death, including former President Obama, who awarded the Celtics great the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010.

“For decades, Bill endured insults and vandalism, but never let it stop him from speaking up for what’s right,” Obama wrote in a tweet, referring to him as a “civil rights trailblazer.”  “I learned so much from the way he played, the way he coached, and the way he lived his life.”

Tags Barack Obama basketball Bill Russell Bill Russell Boston Celtics Boston Celtics Celtics civil rights Kristaps Porzingis LeBron James Martin Luther King Jr. Muhammad Ali NBA NBA NBPA
See all Hill.TV See all Video