NBA needs to honor Bill Russell by retiring No. 6 leaguewide

Some legacies are too important to leave alone, to trust that society will appreciate them properly and celebrate them regularly. They require special attention and direct action to ensure the memories don’t fade over time.

Bill Russell has one of those legacies, and the NBA needs to do the right thing.

They must retire the #6 uniform league-wide and honor Russell the same way Major League Baseball honors Jackie Robinson.

The parallels between the two men, all-time great athletes who fought with equal intensity against prejudice and narrow-mindedness, make the choice of honor easy.

“In every generation, people make a difference not only with their game but also with their personality,” Jerry West told The Times’ Bill Plaschke on Sunday. “Bill Russell and Jackie Robinson were in the same class.”

25 NBA players wore the No. 6 last season, with only Nos. 3, 5, 8, 9 and 11 being more popular) — LeBron James is among the group currently wearing it. The league could certainly see players ending their careers in Russell’s number. But no one else should be wearing it — a final ultimate token of respect for the incredible impression Russell made of what it means to be an NBA champion and, more importantly, what it means to be a socially engaged and connected one To be a member of society willing to assert itself even to the point of injustice.

It has become the template for what it means to be an NBA player.

On the court, Russell played basketball with the utmost purity, with an emphasis on defense and rebounds as a means of winning. He’s done it better than anyone — 11 NBA championships, two college titles, and an Olympic gold medal.

He was the NBA’s most valuable player five times, despite never averaging 20 points per game.

He became the league’s first black head coach and by winning a championship helped open doors for those who followed him.

His name is already on the trophy presented to the NBA Finals’ Most Valuable Player, but that’s not enough.

By retiring Russell’s number and celebrating him on or around his February 12th birthday, the NBA could tell Russell’s story annually to people who need to be reminded.

“My mother went on to tell me that I should never ever argue with anyone, but that I should always finish whatever fight I was in,” Russell wrote in Slam magazine in 2020. “I’m 86 years old now and I think I have one more fight to finish.”

This fight, of course, was for humanity and equality against those who treated black people with hatred.

Russell led a boycott of black players from an exhibition game in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1961 after two teammates were refused service at a coffee shop. He met Muhammad Ali along with the sport’s biggest black stars at the Cleveland Summit in 1967.

He challenged racist fans in Boston, refusing to show respect unless it was deserved, and held integrated basketball camps in Mississippi after the murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evers.

He met injustice with intelligence and anger, a combination that didn’t sit well with many people.

Yet the talking and talking has become commonplace in the NBA — and Russell deserves credit for pulling it off.

“Bill represented something much bigger than the sport: the values ​​of equality, respect and inclusion that he inculcated into the DNA of our league,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement Sunday. “At the height of his athletic career, Bill was a vigorous advocate for civil rights and social justice, a legacy he passed on to generations of NBA players who followed in his footsteps.

“Despite all the taunts, threats and unimaginable adversity, Bill stood above it all and remained true to his belief that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity.”

In a league where it has largely become a safe space for speaking out against inequality and injustice, protecting Russell’s legacy is too important to leave to chance.

While Russell may have been uneasy with a tribute of this nature, the stakes are too high.

If the No. 6 were in the rafters of every NBA arena and a day was dedicated to their greatest champion, the league could keep Russell’s story fresh. NBA needs to honor Bill Russell by retiring No. 6 leaguewide

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