The NBA retires Bill Russell’s number 6!


Idea suggested by Magic Johnsonthe NBA and the players’ union have decided to remove number 6 from Bill Russell, died a few days ago. All teams in the league will therefore retire this number in honor of a pioneer of the league in many respects.

This is the very first jersey that the NBA decides to retire in the entire league. Players currently wearing the 6 will be able to continue to do so, but it will never be awarded again. Last season 25 different players from 20 teams wore number 6.

“Bill Russell’s unparalleled success on the court and his pioneering civil rights activism deserve to be honored in a unique and historic way. The permanent retirement of his number 6 on all NBA teams ensures that Bill’s transcendent career will always be recognized. –Adam Silver

Bill Russell is the man who won everything, in high school, then in the NCAA, twice champion, and especially in the NBA with the Celtics: 11 titles in 13 seasons! 5-time MVP, 12-time All-Star, and a member of every historic league team, perhaps the greatest defender in the history of our sport.

Above all, he worked all his life against social injustice and discrimination, very involved in the civil rights movement. He was also the league’s first black coach, inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player and as a coach.

For the record, did you know that when the Celtics retired his number 6 jersey in 1972, the Boston Garden was empty? Quite simply because the Celtics legend didn’t want his jersey to be retired, well more precisely because he didn’t want a ceremony and it to be retired in front of the Boston public.

First of all because he was not too fond of being put forward like that, but also and above all because his relationship with the Celtics public and the city of Boston during his years as a player was not of the best. At a time when the NBA was still predominantly white, and in a city of Boston that Russell would describe in 1979 as the “flea market of racism”, where only 9% of the population was black, being a black star was very very complicated. If he was adored by part of the public, he was clearly not unanimous.

As a star he was also a target and his house had been vandalized with racist inscriptions, and he sometimes received death threats and racist letters. Loyal to the Celtics franchise, to his teammates, coaches and managers, and to whom he gave his all, his relationship with the city of Boston was very different, and he clearly dissociated the two.

The craziest thing is that it took Red Auerbach a whole scheme to get his jersey removed. Shortly after his retirement in 1969, Red Auerbach offered him a ceremony to have his shirt join that of his former teammates. But no question for Russell and he had therefore refused.

But Red Auerbach was the stubborn type and did not give up the idea of ​​having a ceremony in tribute to his former player. How to do ? It’s not easy to set up, especially when the main interested party does not want to participate and no longer comes to the matches. So Auerbach had an idea. In 1972 Bill Russell had become a commentator for ABC and there was just one game against the Knicks that the legend had to commentate.

The occasion was perfect for Auerbach, who somehow set a trap for the pivot by planning a ceremony behind his back, which was to be held at halftime of the match. He had warned the family and the former teammates of Russell, but it was without counting on the hard head of the latter. Caught off guard when he arrived at the game on Sunday, Russell could no longer refuse a ceremony, but it was out of the question for him that it be done in front of the public!

It was therefore decided to do it in a small committee, just before the doors open to the public. It was therefore in the presence of some of his former teammates, managers and some journalists who had arrived at the hall earlier that a short ceremony took place and during which the number 6 joined the ceiling of the hall. All while Knicks and Celtics players were warming up. You imagine the scene, quite improbable for a player of this stature.

But 27 years later, on May 26, 1999, when his position concerning the city of Boston had softened a little, he finally accepted that a new ceremony be held in his homage. It is therefore a second time, this time in a much fuller room at the FleetCenter, and in the presence of his former teammates, but also adversaries such as Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabar or even Oscar Robertson and Rick Barry that his number 6 is ceiling mounted. However, that day Russell had set a condition. All profits from this ceremony should be donated to charity. It was with the help of Red Auerbach and to thunderous applause that he hoisted his jersey, shedding a few tears. A magnificent moment!


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