The National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) announced that they will honor the life and legacy of 11-time NBA champion and civil rights pioneer Bill Russell by permanently retiring his uniform number, 6, throughout the league. The iconic Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer will be the first player to have his number retired across the NBA.
“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.”
In addition to retiring Russell’s number, the NBA will pay tribute to the Boston Celtics’ legend throughout the 2022-23 season. All NBA players will wear a commemorative patch on the right shoulder of their jerseys, and every NBA court will display a clover-shaped logo with the No. 6 on the sideline near the scorer’s table. The Celtics, for whom Russell played his entire career and coached, will have a separate and unique recognition for him on their uniforms, to be announced soon.
Russell’s jersey number, which he wore for his entire 13-season career from 1956-69, will not be issued again by any NBA team to any player. Players who currently wear No. 6 will be grandfathered.
Regarded as the ultimate winner and model teammate, Russell transformed the game with his dominant defense and graceful athleticism at the center position. He won a record 11 NBA championships in 13 seasons, which followed back-to-back national championships at the University of San Francisco (1955 and 1956) and a gold medal with the U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball Team (1956). Russell, who led Boston to eight consecutive NBA championships from 1959-66, was so synonymous with success that the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award was named for him in 2009.
His myriad accomplishments included five NBA Most Valuable Player awards, 12 NBA All-Star selections and 11 All-NBA Team honors. Russell was named to all four NBA anniversary teams (25th, 35th, 50th and 75th) and inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975. A four-time NBA rebounding champion, he ranks second in league history in total rebounds (21,620) and rebounds per game (22.5) in the regular season. The Celtics retired his No. 6 jersey in 1972.
Russell’s impact on the NBA extended far beyond his playing achievements. In 1966, he was hired by the Celtics as the first Black head coach in the history of the NBA and major U.S. professional sports. As a player-head coach, he guided Boston to back-to-back NBA championships in 1968 and 1969.
During and after his extraordinary basketball career, Russell passionately advocated for the values of equality, respect and inclusion. He marched for civil rights with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and was steadfast in his belief that all people should be treated with dignity. Russell was awarded the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, for his athletic feats and lifelong commitment to social justice.