Should NBA retire No. 6 of Bill Russell across entire league?
The No. 42 is retired across Major League Baseball in honor of the groundbreaking Jackie Robinson.
The No. 99 is retired across the National Hockey League for the great scorer and ambassador of the game Wayne Gretzky.
Should the NBA retire the No. 6 of Bill Russell across the entire league to honor the 11-time champion and civil rights icon who passed away last weekend?
Another legend of the game, Magic Johnson, says yes.
The NBA Finals MVP trophy is named after Russell — he was on the stage to hand it to Stephen Curry this year — but does that go far enough?There is the beginnings of a groundswell behind the idea of retiring Russell’s No. 6, with Dan Woike of The Los Angeles Times and Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated writing about it. Marc Stein wrote about the idea for Substack and talked about it with Tyson Chandler, who wears the No. 6 in a tribute to Russell.
“I understand when people want to retire a number,” Chandler said. “If it is anyone, I would clearly say it should be the champion of all champions.
“But I also think it’s beautiful to see players like myself wear the number in his honor and try to tap into what we were inspired by while watching him — or in my case studying.”
Russell is in the Jackie Robinson rarified air of a Hall of Fame player on the court whose impact off of it may have been even more significant. His passing didn’t just have sports stars praising him, there were three United States presidents who felt the need to express their love and admiration of the man.
If anyone in the NBA deserves this honor, it is Russell. It is an interesting idea that sounds like a fitting tribute.
Commissioner Adam Silver and his NBA tend to move patiently on these kinds of changes (and they are not going to do anything while people are still mourning). Silver is a consensus builder, not someone prone to impulsive decisions. But how much of a consensus needs to be built around the idea of retiring Russell’s No. 6? There are a lot of supporters and it’s hard to imagine anyone trying to stand in the way of the move.
It will not be quick, but momentum toward retiring the No. 6 across the league for Russell is gaining momentum.
Nobody in NBA history is more deserving of the honor.