In the wake of Bill Russell‘s recent passing, the NBA has announced it will retire Russell’s No. 6 jersey throughout the league, confirming the decision in a press release on Thursday. The National Basketball Players Association put out the same announcement on its own website.
Players who currently wear No. 6, including Lakers superstar LeBron James, will be able to continue wearing it, but the number won’t be issued again by any team to any player going forward, according to today’s announcement.
“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.”
“This is a momentous honor reserved for one of the greatest champions to ever play the game,” NBPA executive director Tamika Tremaglio stated. “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, who wore No. 6 for his entire NBA career from 1956-69, won a league-record 11 championships in just 13 seasons. In addition to his unprecedented success on the court, Russell was a trailblazer off of it, championing civil rights, equality, and inclusion. He became the first Black head coach in the NBA and in major U.S. sports when he was named the player-coach of the Celtics in 1966.
According to the NBA, the league will pay further tribute to Russell by having all players wear a commemorative patch on their jerseys during the 2022/23 season, with every NBA court displaying a clover-shaped logo with the No. 6 on the sidelines near the scorer’s table.
Besides James, 24 other NBA players wore the No. 6 in 2021/22, per Basketball-Reference. Many of those players are no longer under contract, but Bulls guard Alex Caruso, Pistons wing Hamidou Diallo, and Wizards big man Kristaps Porzingis are among those who still wear the number and will be allowed to continue doing so.