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NBA Retiring Bill Russell’s #6 Leaguewide

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The National Basketball Association announced this afternoon they have taken the unprecedented step of retiring all-time great (and IMO GOAT) Bill Russell’s number six across the league, a first for the NBA.

Russell passed away earlier this month.

While the NBA has never retired a number leaguewide, both Major League Baseball (#42, for pioneer and all time great Jackie Robinson) and the National Hockey League (#99, for Wayne Gretzky) have also permanently retired those numbers. Russell becomes the third athlete so honored.

In addition, all NBA players will have a special patch on the right shoulder of their jerseys during the 2022-23 season. Not only that, but the NBA announced every team’s court will place a shamrock-shaped logo with Russell’s No. 6 near the scorer’s table, on the sideline.

Russell’s #6 already hangs from the rafters of Boston Garden TD Garden. The Celtics retired Russell’s jersey number for their team in 1972.

Beginning 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 LeBron James, among others) will be grandfathered in and permitted to wear the number.

While the rest of the league will wear the just announced shoulder patch, the Celtics planning a “separate and unique recognition” for Russell on its uniforms.

The Celtics are not the only NBA team to have retired the number 6.

Comments (19)

    The term “grandfathered in” is a relic of the Jim Crow south which birthed the very system Bill Russell fought against. The Grandfather Clause allowed you to vote if your grandfather could which, of course, no freed Black American could after the Civil War and emancipation in 1867. One way to honor Russell might be to create a better term.

    Correct that it is a Jim Crow law but rather than only allowing people to vote if their grandfather could, it instead was a clause in various literacy tests and other voting restrictions. Such that if you couldn’t pay a poll tax or pass the literacy test, you were still allowed to vote if you grandfather could. Essentially it was a way keep poor blacks in the south from voting, but exempting poor whites from those same barriers.
    Interestingly I find more people object to this phrase because of it being gender specific, rather than knowledge of the history of the term.
    I’ve struggled to find a suitable replacement phrase, perhaps just “exempted”?

    I hadn’t heard that about the term either until this years’ negotiations for our union. We took out “grandfather/grandmother” and replaced it with “legacy”.

    So will the Sixers and the other teams that have already retired 6 put Russell up along with their previous honorees? I would imagine, yeah?

    Worth noting that no MLB team (other than the Dodgers, obvs) had retired 42 prior to its universal retirement, though the Cardinals and Yankees did afterwards. And 99 wasn’t really a thing prior to Gretzky. (Though Wilf Paiement and Rick Dudley also wore in in the 80s.)

    Before Gretzky a lot of NHL teams carried a 99 sweater, typically used for late call-ups and as a blood-shirt. Quite a turnaround becoming synonymous with greatness after that!

    I’m sure that’s what they’ll do, just add a separate “6” banner for Russell — maybe even in green and white to distinguish it, like how Jackie’s 42 is rendered in Dodger Blue in every stadium.

    Oh! I wonder if the teams that have it retired for the “6th Man” will scrap that though and just have the number up for Russell. I feel like putting up Bill’s 6 next to a 6th Man banner…I dunno, cheapens it a bit? Like hanging “Guernica” next to that Pink Floyd poster everyone’s roommate put up in college.

    My local team (thankfully) doesn’t have “6” retired for The Fans, but if it did I’d be more than happy to cede it to Bill Freaking Russell.

    I’m not a fan of league-wide number retirements.

    No question that Bill Russell is one of the greatest players in the history of the NBA, and his number is in the rafters in Boston, where it belongs. But is his 6 more deserving of NBA-wide retirement than 13? Or 23? How do you draw that line? (Maybe the Heat were being incredibly forward-thinking when they retired 23.)

    For the three other clubs who recognize their players who wore 6, how much does having a green 6 next to it dilute that honor? And for most other teams, it’ll just look strange.

    Leave honoring Russell to the Celtics. And let everybody else honor their own greats.

    I applaud this move and also the fact that current number 6 players can wear the number until they retire. I applaud players getting traded in the future who will change from number 6 to another number.

    The move is good. Mandating a shamrock 6 on all floors is not. The Lakers are required to have their rival’s symbol on their home court? Really?

    The Celtics have been playing with an image of a Laker on their uniforms for 36 years, so I’d say the Lakers having to have a Celtics symbol on their floor is only fair.

    It’s on the sideline by the scorer’s table. Most teams already have advertiser logos in that area so it’s not some hallowed ground. It’s not on the playing court.

    I fully acknowledge Russell’s greatness, but disagree with the league-wide retirement. Where does it stop? Kareem was a better player and has done plenty for the cause. Is 33 next? What about MJ? And Magic? You get the point. Let Boston retire his number (which they have). Julius Erving was a Philly legend, but now has to share space in the rafters with a guy who never played for the Sixers. Huh?

    Second this.
    Jackie’s league wide retirement makes sense. But I don’t think any others, even Gretzky, deserve the honor. Calling someone the best ever is almost always a bit of a subjective debate, even when various statistics might present a justified case. Robinson is deserving of it because of the historical significance of his career beyond simply his skill, such that he is actually important in non-sports American history, and because of his character and actions could be considered one of the greatest men in the 20th century.
    I’d suggest that more appropriate than a league wide number retirement would just be a Bill Russell day, and league wide wearing a memorial patch for him.

    Yes, this x 100.

    I would argue that Magic, Bird, and Jordan were more important to the health and well being of the NBA than Russell was. Remember that in the 70’s, NBA Finals games were tape delayed and not shown live.

    There are plenty of reasons to roll one’s eyes at Sacramento. (Sac native here)

    The only question I would have is with the timing, Why wait until he died? Why not honor him with this gesture before he died?

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