Hall of Famer Magic Johnson has called for NBA legend Bill Russell’s number to be retired across the entire league by the NBA.
Russell, an 11-time NBA champion and a civil rights campaigner, died at the age of 88 Sunday.
He was one of the most influential basketball players in history and tributes, led by former President Barack Obama, flooded in following the Celtics legend’s death.
Magic Johnson has called for NBA legend Bill Russell’s number to be retired across the league
Russell was an iconic No 6 for the Celtics and the number has already been retired by the team
Some have now taken their admiration of Russell a step further with observers calling for the NBA to retire his No 6 jersey across the entire league.
Former Lakers point guard Johnson has added his voice to the mix as he joined those calling on NBA commissioner Adam Silver to make the move.
Taking to Twitter, Johnson wrote: ‘Commissioner Adam Silver should retire number 6 across the @NBA in honor of Bill Russell’s legacy!’
Johnson took to Twitter to join calls for NBA commissioner Adam Silver to take action
The No 6 is already retired by the Celtics but the step would immortalize it in the NBA as the No 42 was in the MLB in honor of Jackie Robinson.
It would justifiably cement Russell’s legacy as an on-court champion and civil rights trailblazer.
Russell’s 11 titles with the Celtics came between 1956 and 1969 in one of the sport’s most dominant eras but while playing for Boston, endured significant racism and abuse.
But Russell used his position to push for equality throughout his life. Notably, he was at the March on Washington in 1963, when Martin Luther King Jr. gave his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, and he backed Muhammad Ali when the boxer was pilloried for refusing induction into the military draft.
The move would cement Russell’s legacy as an on-court champion and civil rights trailblazer
Russell’s 11 titles came between 1956 and 1969 in a dominant era for the Celtics in basketball. In 1966, Russell was named the team’s player-coach by outgoing coach Red Auerbach (right)
However, Johnson’s pitch faces an obstacle as the No 6 is the jersey currently worn by LeBron James and the plan might not go down so well with the Lakers.
James made the switch to the No 6 in 2021 after wearing the No 23 for his first three seasons in Los Angeles. He also wore the number during his four-year stint with the Miami Heat.
He explained the decision to The Athletic, saying: ‘It’s always been a part of me, to be honest.
LeBron James wears the No. 6 with the Lakers
‘Six has a lot of meaning to me, from my family and numbers and things of that nature to what I believe in and things of that sort, but my mentality doesn’t change.’
However, James has flicked between the two numbers throughout his career and another switch could pave the way for Johnson’s call for the unprecedented honor.
Russell also won an Olympic gold medal in Melbourne with the United States in 1956 and two NCAA titles at San Francisco in 1955 and 56, success that paved the way for him to become a five-time NBA MVP and 12-time All-Star.
Russell averaged 15.1 points and 22.5 rebounds over 13 seasons (1956-69) with the Celtics. He was first inducted to the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 1975, then again as a coach in 2021.
In addition to his civil rights work, he’s considered one of the greatest winners in US sports history and the greatest defensive player in NBA history.
The native of Louisiana also left a lasting mark as a black athlete in a city – and country – where race is often a flash point.
In 2011, Russell was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Obama – the highest civilian honor in the United States.
In 2011, Russell was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the highest civilian honor
Former President Barack Obama (left) led the tributes to the great, saying ‘we lost a great’
Upon learning of his death, Obama tweeted: ‘Today, we lost a giant. As tall as Bill Russell stood, his legacy rises far higher — both as a player and as a person.
‘Perhaps knew more than anyone else, Bill knew what it took to win and what it took to lead. On the court, he was the greatest champion in basketball history. Off of it, he was a civil rights trailblazer — marching with Dr. King and standing with Muhammad Ali.
‘For decades, Bill endure insults and vandalism, but never let it stop him from speaking up for what’s right. I learned so much from the way he played, the way he coached and the way he lived his life.’
Johnson joined the 44th President of the United States among those to pay tribute to the NBA great.
He tweeted: ‘He was one of the first athletes on the front line fighting for social justice, equity, equality, and civil rights. That’s why I admired and loved him so much. Over the course of our friendship, he always reminded me about making things better in the Black community.’
HIS MEMORABLE RIVALRY WITH WILT CHAMBERLAIN
BY ALEX RASKIN, SPORTS NEWS EDITOR
For all of his success and civil rights work, it may be Russell’s longtime rivalry with friend and fellow Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain that is remembered best by fans.
The ‘Big Dipper’, as the 7-foot-1 Chamberlain was known, debuted for the Philadelphia Warriors in 1959, and immediately set an NBA record by averaging 37.6 points a game as a rookie. That offensive firepower was a perfect complement to the defensive-minded Russell, inspiring sportswriters to dub their first meetings “The Big Collision” and “Battle of the Titans.”
Statistically, Chamberlain dominated Russell in 94 regular season meetings, averaging 30 points and 28.2 rebounds a game.
Financially, Russell had a slight edge over Chamberlain, who became the first NBA player to get a $100,000 salary in 1965, only to see Celtics coach and executive Red Auerbach give his center a raise to $100,001, annually.
Russell, of course, made his biggest mark in the win column, going 57 and 37 in the regular season against Chamberlain’s teams: the Warriors, both in Philadelphia and San Francisco, the Philadelphia 76ers, and later, the Los Angeles Lakers.
Russell (left) in action against his rival Wilt Chamberlain of the LA Lakers in 1969
It was in LA that Russell gave Chamberlain his most devastating defeat.
Chamberlain, the reigning MVP in 1968, was traded to LA, where he made the Lakers immediate favorites to win an NBA title and end the Celtics’ dynasty.
Instead, the aging Celtics reached the Finals and pushed the Lakers to a Game 7 in LA, where owner Jack Kent Cooke had ordered thousands of “World Champion” balloons in anticipation of a home team win.
Russell, upon seeing the balloons secured by a net in the Forum rafters, reportedly told Lakers legend Jerry West ‘those f***ing balloons are staying up there.”
He was right, and the Celtics pulled out a 108-106 win while Chamberlain missed the fourth quarter with a knee injury. (He allegedly tried to return to the game, but was prevented from doing so by Lakers coach Butch Van Breda Kolff)
Chamberlain and Russell did not speak for nearly 20 years afterwards, allegedly because Russell had criticized his friend’s performance in the series to reporters.
The two did reconcile, however, and were on good terms when Chamberlain passed away in 1999 at 63 due to heart problems. His nephew later revealed that Russell was one of the first people he was instructed to inform about Chamberlain’s death.