Celtics Legend Bill Russell's No. 6 Jersey to Be Permanently Retired by NBA

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVAugust 11, 2022

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The NBA announced Thursday it will honor Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell by retiring his No. 6 jersey across the league.

"Bill Russell’s unparalleled success on the court and pioneering civil rights activism deserve to be honored in a unique and historic way," commissioner Adam Silver said. "Permanently retiring his No. 6 across every NBA team ensures that Bill’s transcendent career will always be recognized."

The number retirement begins with immediate effect, though players who already wear No. 6 can continue to do so.

In 1997, MLB retired Jackie Robinson's No. 42 jersey to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Robinson breaking the color barrier.

Russell, who died at age 88 on July 31, is the first player to have his jersey retired by the NBA. It's a distinction befitting his achievements on the court and his legacy off it.

The 6'10" center won two consecutive titles at the University of San Francisco before becoming a 12-time All-Star, an 11-time NBA champion and a five-time MVP. He averaged 16.2 points and 24.9 rebounds across a 13-year career, establishing himself as one of the greatest players of all time.

The Celtics named him their player/head coach in 1966, making him the first Black head coach in the NBA. He won back-to-back titles in that role in 1968 and 1969.

Russell was also a civil rights pioneer. He took part in Martin Luther King Jr.'s March on Washington in 1963 and was among the athletes to support Muhammad Ali at the Cleveland Summit. In 1961, he was at the center of a boycott by Celtics players ahead of an exhibition in Lexington, Kentucky, because two of his teammates, Sam Jones and Thomas Sanders, were denied service at a local coffee shop.

Russell also didn't shy away from recounting the racism he experienced in Boston while helping turn the Celtics into a dynasty in the 1960s.

Sociologist Harry Edwards described Russell as "brilliant" in a 2019 interview with Andscape's Martenzie Johnson.

"He is probably the most brilliant, intellectually, athlete that I have ever come across, and one of the most brilliant people that I’ve come across," Edwards said.

Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar reflected to Johnson on how Russell impacted his own activism.

"The thing that most affected me was that he approached injustice with passion, but he expressed himself rationally rather than with anger,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “Anger never persuaded anyone to your side, but logic did. That was an approach I tried to adopt."

In addition to retiring his jersey, the NBA will celebrate Russell's life by having every team wear a commemorative jersey patch and place a commemorative logo on the sideline near the scorer's table.

President Barack Obama awarded Russell the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.


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