The National Basketball Association has permanently retired the jersey number 6 on all teams as a lasting tribute to Bill Russell, the league announced on Thursday, August 11.
“Bill Russell’s unparalleled success on the court and pioneering civil rights activism deserve to be honored in a unique and historic way,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in their statement. “Permanently retiring his No. 6 across every NBA team ensures that Bill’s transcendent career will always be recognized.”
Known for his storied career with the Boston Celtics, the greatest champion in league history passed away peacefully last July 31 at the age of 88 in Washington state. Before the league’s announcement, his number was already hung on the rafters of the Garden, having his number retired previously by his team 50 years ago.
Eventually, his name was attached to the most valuable player award for the NBA Finals that began in 2009.
The NBA became the third North American league to retire a specific number for all of its teams, after the MLB (1997) and NHL (2000) retired 42 and 99 for Jackie Robinson and Wayne Gretzky, respectively.
As such, 25 players are allowed to keep the number as a grandfather clause, having worn the number 6 the past season. The most notable ones are the Lakers’ Lebron James and the Wizards’ Kristaps Porzingis.
Before coming to Red Auerbach and to Beantown, Russell knows how to win at all levels, as he was one of the elite eight players who have won the NCAA Tournament, the Olympic Gold Medal, and the NBA title. The pair enjoyed humongous success together on the parquet floor, as the Celtics have terrorized the association with Russell anchoring their lockdown defense that led to fast breaks.
He had a career double-double average of 15.1 points and 22.5 rebounds per outing in his 13 seasons with Boston, and he was part of all four Anniversary teams by the NBA, the most recent was honored at the 2022 All Star game in Cleveland as part of the 75th Anniversary team.
The towering center had broken the color barrier of head coaching when he was hired by his former mentor Auerbach in 1966, right after winning their eighth straight NBA title, and ninth overall. He then won two more rings and retired from playing in 1969 as a champion for the eleventh and final time.
Apart from his on-court excellence, Russell was an active participant in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2011.