The NBA and NBA Players Association (NBPA) announced Thursday that the North American Basketball League will suspend No. Bill Russell, the player who was an 11-time NBA champion and a pioneer in the struggle for black civil rights in the United States. Russell died on July 31 at the age of 88.
This is the first time the league has waived an athlete’s jersey. Until now, only teams retired the jerseys of their franchises’ big names. Russell had his jersey retired by the Boston Celtics.
“Bill Russell’s unparalleled success on the court and his pioneering civil rights activism deserve to be honored in a unique and historic way,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. “His permanent retirement of No. 6 on every NBA team shows that Bill’s transcendent career will always be recognized.”
NPBA President Tamila Tremaglio said it’s an honor for one of the greatest champions to ever play in the NBA. “Bill’s actions on and off the court throughout his life have helped shape generations of players for the better, and for that we are forever grateful. But we’re proud to continue to celebrate his life and his legacy in the league.”
Shirts with number 6 can only be used by athletes who already play with this number. No other player on any team may choose this number. In the 2022/2023 season, 13 players are announced with jersey number 6: LeBron James, Alex Caruso, David Durk, Jaylen McDaniels, Hamidou Diallo, Kenyon Martin Jr., Luka Vildosa, Jordan McLaughlin, Quentin Grimes, Jaylin Williams, Keon Johnson, Nickle Alexander-Walker and Kristaps Porzingis.
Bill Russell is considered one of the best players of all time. The center was an Olympic champion in 1956, played 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics from 1956-1969 and won 11 titles, including eight in a row (1956-1966). He was also the first black coach in the NBA and the major leagues, taking over the Celtics in 1966, and he won titles as a coach and player in 1968 and 1969. He also coached the Seattle Supersonics and the Sacramento Kings.
Russell won five Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards, was a 12-time All-Star and 11-time All-NBA Team. Russell was a four-time rebounder and ranked second in the league with 21,620 regular-season rebounds per game (22.5). His average score was 15.1, but his main attribute was his defense and leadership on the court. Some running stats like blocks weren’t counted when Russell started his career.
In 2009, the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award was named after Bill Russell.
Russell’s influence was also felt off the court, fighting for the values of equality, respect and inclusion. He suffered racism from fans of his own team, the Boston Celtics, who came to break into and vandalize his home.
Pivotal march for civil rights alongside the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and was steadfast in his belief that all people should be treated with dignity. In 2010, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor that can be awarded to a civilian in the United States.
Bill Russell’s death was mourned by athletes such as Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Magic Johnson and Kareen Abdul-Jabbar, two former US presidents, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and President Joe Biden, among others.