Magic Johnson calls for NBA to retire Bill Russell’s No. 6 league-wide originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
In 1997, more than 20 years after baseball legend Jackie Robinson’s death, Major League Baseball retired No. 42 league-wide in his honor. Jackie Robinson was a hero for many, including Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell.
Robinson broke MLB’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 when Russell was just a junior in high school. As Russell rose to prominence in the sports world after winning 11 NBA titles in 13 years with the Celtics, he became one of Robinson’s favorite athletes and was even a pallbearer at Robinson’s funeral in 1972.
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Just as Robinson played a key role in the Civil Rights movement, so did Russell. As he marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and stood with Muhammad Ali, Russell transformed into a role model for many. His fight against racism and his wildly successful basketball career have left a significant impression on younger generations.
Now, two days after Russell’s passing, basketball legend Magic Johnson is calling on NBA commissioner Adam Silver to retire Russell’s No. 6 league-wide, just as baseball did with Robinson’s No. 42. The Celtics retired Russell’s number in 1972.
The MLB allowed players who wore No. 42 as of 1997 to continue to wear the number until the end of their career, but the number would not be given to new players. Every MLB player wears No. 42 on April 15 in remembrance of Robinson.
The NBA could do the same. Last season, 25 of the league’s 30 teams had a No. 6 in their lineup. Those players could keep the number, but the No. 6 would never be assigned to another player.
Retiring Russell’s jersey makes perfect sense, considering his tremendous achievements in basketball and his continuous, courageous actions as a champion of civil rights. Russell received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011 for his efforts.
Johnson isn’t alone in his message that the league should retire Russell’s No. 6. Plenty of others have made the same suggestion since Sunday. Whether Silver and the league take any action on the subject remains to be seen.