The NBA will honor the legacy of Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell by retiring his No. 6 jersey for all 30 teams, the league and the National Basketball Players Association announced Thursday.
Russell becomes the first player in NBA history to have his jersey retired leaguewide.
Along with the number being retired, all NBA players will wear a commemorative patch on the right shoulder of their jerseys during the 2022-23 season and every court will display a shamrock-shaped logo with Russell’s No. 6 on the sideline near the scorer’s table.
“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.”
Starting with the 2022-23 season, no NBA team will be allowed to issue No. 6 to any player. Players who currently wear No. 6 — such as Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James — may continue to do so. According to Basketball Reference, 25 players, including James, Kristaps Porzingis, Alex Caruso, Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams, wore No. 6 last season.
The league said plans for the Celtics, where Russell played all 13 years of his career, to honor Russell are still being determined and will be announced at a later date. Boston is planning a “separate and unique recognition” for Russell on its uniforms.
The NBA previously recognized Russell’s contributions when it named the Finals MVP Award after him in 2009.
“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.”
Russell, an 11-time NBA champion, died July 31 at the age of 88.
During his 13-year playing career, Russell was named NBA MVP five times and was an 11-time All-NBA selection. He was named the Celtics’ player-coach in 1966, becoming the first Black head coach in American professional sports, and led Boston to back-to-back titles in 1968 and 1969.
Russell remains second all-time in NBA history in rebounds (21,620) and rebounds per game (22.5). He is also the all-time leading rebounder in NBA postseason history with 4,104 total boards and 24.9 rebounds per game.
The ultimate winner, Russell led San Francisco to consecutive NCAA titles before making the jump to the NBA and won a gold medal at the 1956 Olympics.
Russell was also known for his work in civil rights. He marched with Martin Luther King Jr., stood with Muhammad Ali and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama.
Having his number retired leaguewide puts Russell in a very exclusive club.
Major League Baseball permanently retired No. 42 in 1997 in honor of Jackie Robinson, who broke the big league’s color barrier, with the understanding that those who were wearing that number could continue to do so. Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees was the last in the majors to wear No. 42, doing so through his final season in 2013.
The NHL, upon Wayne Gretzky’s retirement in 1999, said his No. 99 would be retired leaguewide in honor of that sport’s all-time scoring leader.
There have been more than 250 players in NBA history to wear a No. 6 jersey, and Russell is one of 12 players enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame who wore No. 6 at some point in their careers. The others: Julius Erving, Patrick Ewing, Ben Wallace, Don Barksdale, Chuck Cooper, Larry Costello, Tom Gola, Cliff Hagan, Alex Hannum, Buddy Jeanette and Neil Johnston.
Nobody has worn No. 6 for the Celtics since Russell’s final season in 1968-69.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.