Dick Raphael/NBAE/Getty Bill Russell
The NBA will honor the late basketball icon Bill Russell by permanently retiring his No. 6 jersey across the league, they announced Thursday, two weeks after his death at age 88.
The Boston Celtics legend — who earned 11 NBA championship rings during his career — will become the first player to have his number retired throughout the NBA.
"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 statement. "Permanently retiring his No. 6 across every NBA team ensures that Bill's transcendent career will always be recognized."
Tamika Tremaglio, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, said that they wanted to celebrate Russell's legacy as an NBA champ and civil rights activist.
Bettmann Archive/Getty Bill Russell
"This is a momentous honor reserved for one of the greatest champions to ever play the game," she shared. "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."
No future NBA players will be allowed to pick Russell's jersey number, which he wore throughout his storied career. But players who currently don No. 6 — including LeBron James and the Washington Wizards' Kristaps Porzingis — will be allowed to keep their numbers, according to the league.
Along with retiring Russell's number, the league will have NBA players wear a commemorative patch on their jerseys this season. Each NBA court will also feature a clover-shaped logo with the No. 6 on the sideline near the scorer's table.
The Celtics are also planning their own "separate and unique" tribute to Russell on their uniforms.
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Russell "passed away peacefully" with his wife Jeannine by his side last month, according to a statement posted on his official Twitter account.
They added that "arrangements for his memorial service will be announced soon" and "Bill's wife, Jeannine, and his many friends and family thank you for keeping Bill in your prayers."
"Perhaps, you'll relive one or two of the golden moments he gave us, or recall his trademark laugh as he delighted in explaining the real story behind how those moments unfolded," they wrote. "And we hope each of us can find a new way to act or speak up with Bill's uncompromising, dignified and always constructive commitment to principle. That would be one last, and lasting, win for our beloved #6."
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty
Russell was selected by the St. Louis Hawks with the second overall pick in the 1956 NBA Draft, but was traded to the Boston Celtics the same day. The partnership would prove a fruitful one — together with head coach Red Auerbach, the Celtics won 11 championships during Russell's tenure.
Eight of those titles came consecutively from 1959 to 1966, a feat that has not been replicated again in the NBA or the other major American sports leagues.
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Russell was also active in the Civil Rights Movement, having boycotted an NBA game in 1961 after a restaurant in Kentucky refused to seat him and his Black teammates, author Doug Merlino wrote in his book, The Crossover: A Brief History of Basketball and Race, from James Naismith to LeBron James.
After civil rights leader Medgar Evers was assassinated in Jackson, Mississippi in 1963, Russell held the city's first integrated basketball camps.
Russell was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then-President Barack Obama in 2011.