Why Porzingis can keep No. 6 despite Russell's jersey retirement

Kristaps Porzingis

With the news from the NBA that Bill Russell's No. 6 jersey will be retired across the league, that means Kristaps Porzingis will be the last to ever wear it for the Wizards/Bullets franchise. Porzingis, though, does not have to change his number, at least not yet.

As part of the announcement to honor Russell, the basketball and civil rights legend who passed away on July 31, the NBA stipulated that the No. 6 "will not be issued again by any NBA team to any player," but that "players who currently wear No. 6 will be grandfathered." 

Porzingis is good to keep wearing No. 6 for the Wizards, but if he leaves to join another team, he would have to find a new number. Porzingis is one of 25 players who wore No. 6 last season, the most notable being LeBron James of the Lakers. Montrezl Harrell also wore No. 6 for the Wizards last season before being traded in February.

Porzingis can now carry on with it for as long as he is in town. He will be the last of nine players in Wizards/Bullets franchise history to wear No. 6. The others were Mike Riordan (1972-77), Antonio Daniels (2006-09), Mike Miller (2010), Maurice Evans (2011-12), Eric Maynor (2014), Alan Anderson (2016), Troy Brown Jr. (2019-2021) and Harrell (2022).


Russell is the first player in NBA history to have his uniform number retired across the league. The NBA is taking this measure to celebrate his legendary career which featured 11 championships, 12 All-Star appearances and two inductions into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. 

While Russell's jersey retirement is a first for the NBA, a number being discontinued and players already wearing it being grandfathered in is not an entirely new concept. Major League Baseball retired Jackie Robinson's No. 42 jersey in 1997 with the same rule. That led to Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees being the last active player to wear the number until his retirement in 2013.

Maybe Porzingis will be the last one standing someday down the road. For now, he gets the unique honor of wearing a number that is very special in the history of the game.