The NBA will retire Bill Russell’s No. 6 jersey across the league in a move that doesn’t come as a huge surprise. The league office announced this via press release:
“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. “Permanently retiring his No. 6 across every NBA team ensures that Bill’s transcendent career will always be recognized.”
“This is a momentous honor reserved for one of the greatest champions to ever play the game,” said NBPA Executive Director Tamika Tremaglio. “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.”
Russell’s on-court legacy is that of a complete and total winner. He won 11 championships and five MVPs in 13 total seasons as a player. But no one gets their number retired for an entire league by being a great player. Russell was the first black head coach in NBA history, marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010.
Jackie Robinson’s iconic No. 42 is retired throughout MLB and Wayne Gretzky’s No. 99 is untouchable in the NHL. Russell will join those two as the only athletes in the four major sports with this honor. There has been a recent push to retire Roberto Clemente’s No. 21 and Pat Tillman’s No. 40 in the NFL, but neither has happened yet.
As for the players who currently wear No. 6, they are grandfathered in. There were 25 guys who wore No. 6 last season, including Quentin Grimes and LeBron James. Whether or not these guys keep the number will come down to personal preference.