The jersey number worn by Bill Russell, the man who won more championship rings with the Boston Celtics than he could wear on both hands, will be retired across the NBA starting this season.

The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association announced Thursday that they would jointly honor the late basketball hall of famer’s legacy by retiring his uniform number 6 across the league. Russell died on July 31, at age 88.

What You Need To Know

  • The NBA and NBPA announced Thursday that the late basketball legend and civil rights activist Bill Russell would have his jersey number retired across the league, beginning with the upcoming 2022-2023 season; Russell died on July 31, at 88 years old

  • Russell is the first NBA legend to have his number retired league-wide; across North American sports, he joins baseball icon Jackie Robinson and hockey great Wayne Gretzky as the third athlete to be honored by their leagues in such a way

  • Russell's No. 6 will never again be issued by an NBA team, and may only continue to be worn by players already wearing it

  • During a 13 year playing career, Russell won a league-record 11 NBA championships; in 2011, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama

He is the first such player in the NBA to have his number retired across all franchises. Only two other athletes in North American sports have received similar honors: Jackie Robinson’s number 42, which was retired across MLB in 1997, in honor of his breaking the color barrier in baseball’s major leagues; and Wayne Gretzky’s 99, which was retired across the NHL in 2000, to celebrate his legendary skill.

“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 joint statement with the NBPA.  “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.”

All NBA players will wear a commemorative patch on the right shoulder of their jerseys, and all NBA courts will bear a clover-shaped logo with his number 6 on the sideline. His number will no longer be issued for players across the league, though anyone currently wearing number 6 — including Lakers star LeBron James — may continue to wear the number.

Beginning in 1956, Russell spent his entire 13 year career in the NBA with the Boston Celtics. During his tenure, he led the team to the NBA Finals 12 times, winning a standing league-record 11 championships. The last two of those were as a player-coach, making him the first Black coach in the league’s history.

During that time, Russell famously dueled with Wilt Chamberlain, who in 1967 marked the sole blemish on Russell’s championship stretch. But Russell didn’t care about individual awards, as he remarked in 2014, at the unveiling of a statue in his honor at Boston’s City Hall. “I played a team game, and the only important statistic was who won the game,” Russell said.

During and after his career, Russell stood as an outspoken civil rights advocate. In 2011, he was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama, who cited his march alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., his support of Muhammad Ali, and his boycott of a scheduled Celtics game in protest of racist injustice against his teammates.

“Bill Russell, the man, is someone who stood up for the rights and dignity of all men,” Obama said that day. “He endured insults and vandalism, but he kept on focusing on making the teammates who he loved better players, and made possible the success of so many who would follow.”