A remarkable milestone etches its name in the illustrious annals of NBA history as a jersey number stands poised to attain immortality across the vast expanse of the league. This extraordinary occurrence marks an unparalleled chapter, where the distinguished honor of immortalization extends its embrace to encompass the entirety of the basketball landscape. A moment of profound significance reverberates throughout the realms of the NBA, bearing witness to the resounding legacy and enduring impact woven into the fabric of that sacred numerical symbol. This groundbreaking decision marks a momentous occasion, as never before has such a distinction been bestowed upon a player’s numerical emblem on such a grand scale. This historic gesture resonates throughout the basketball world, symbolizing the enduring legacy and indelible impact of the individual associated with that revered number. As most basketball fans may know, Bill Russell one of the greatest basketball players of all time passed away on July 31.
In the 1956 NBA draft, the St. Louis Hawks (now known as the Atlanta Hawks) drafted the 6’10 center as the second overall pick in the first round. Fortunately for the Boston Celtics, they acquired the second pick from the Hawks as a result of trades. Bill Russell would soon lead them to multiple championships including one the upcoming season versus the Hawks.
NBA Championships Won
Bill Russell is an 11-time NBA champion and holds the record for the most championship rings in history. All 11 of Bill Russell’s rings were won with the Celtics with eight of these were back-to-back championship wins. He participated in 12 NBA Finals in a span of his 13-season career. The 1957-58 Finals vs the St. Louis Hawks was the only time Russell lost in the Finals.
As aforementioned, Russell’s first championship came during his rookie year versus the team he was originally drafted to. The 1956-57 Celtics defeated the St. Louis Hawks in game 7. Two years later the 1958-59 Celtics swept the Minneapolis Lakers. The next season (1959-60) the St. Louis Hawks lost in game 7. During the 1960-61 Finals the two teams faced off again and the Celtics won the series 4-1. The 1961-62 Celtics then defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in game 7. The following season (1962-62) there was a rematch between the two teams ending in a 4-2 series win for Russell and the Celtics.
During the 1963-64 Finals the Celtics played against a new opponent, the San Francisco Warriors beat them in Game 5 (4-1 series). The Los Angeles Lakers then received the same treatment, they lost 4-1 in the 1964-65 Finals. They then came back for another shot at the 1965-66 championship and put up more of a fight taking the Finals to game 7. However, the Celtics still walked away with the ring, which ended Russell’s consecutive NBA Finals wins. But not for very long, the 1967-68 Celtics ended up back in the Finals to face and defeat the Los Angeles Lakers 4-2. Russell’s final championship came the following season (1968-69) in Game 7 against the Lakers again.
After his 11th and final championship in 1969 Russell retired. Not only did Russell lead the Celtics to multiple championships, he walked away with many awards throughout his career as well. Russell’s career averages included 15.1 points, 22.5 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game. He is 2nd of all time in career rebounds with 21,620. He was a 12-time NBA All- Star from 1958-1969, winning the All-Star Game MVP in 1963. Russell was the NBA’s Most Valuable Player 5 times; 1958, 1961–1963 and 1965. The Finals MVP award was implemented during Russell’s final season, so the legend was not able to win any of those. However, in 2009 the award was renamed to honor the Celtics legend.
Life After Playing
After his remarkable playing career, Russell transitioned into coaching. He began coaching in 1966, succeeding Coach Red Auerbach. As a player-coach, he became the first Black coach in the NBA. He later coached the Seattle SuperSonics (1973-77) and Sacramento Kings (1987-88). Russell’s exceptional skills in basketball led to his induction into the Hall of Fame as both a player in 1975 and a coach in 2021. He is undeniably a legendary figure in the sport, demonstrating his talent in various capacities.
Russell is also a gift to the African American community. He is a civil rights icon known for his activism. Russell paved the way illustrating that things are bigger than basketball. He stood against racial inequality both on and off the court, and in recognition of his efforts, President Barack Obama presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. As President Obama presented this award, he spoke of some of Russell’s acts of activism. He actively participated in marches alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and protested by refusing to play a game in Kentucky when his Black teammates were denied service at a coffee shop.
A First For The League
To honor the life and career of the great Bill Russell who passed away at the age of 88, the NBA permanently retired his jersey number 6 across the NBA. Those who currently wear the number 6 will be grandfathered and they can continue to wear it. Moving forward the number 6 will not be issued to any player by any NBA team.
Usually, numbers are retired for specific teams but due to the success of Russell his number is being retired for all teams throughout the league. The Celtics retired his jersey number in 1972. This prevented the Celtics from issuing the number to any player.
Not only will Bill Russell be the first to have his number retired across the whole NBA but he will be honored during the 2022-23 season. All players will wear a patch on their jerseys and all courts will have clover shaped logos with the number 6 on them.