Players Honored to Carry Bill Russell’s Legacy

BOSTON – The void that Bill Russell left behind following his death over the summer will never be replaced. The only way that we, as a basketball community, could ever attempt to fill it is through love, support, and commemoration for everything that he accomplished on the court as the NBA’s greatest winner, and off the court as a fighter for civil rights.

The Boston Celtics and the entire NBA will pay tribute to the incomparable legend in a variety of ways throughout the season, and in some ways that will last forever.

All NBA players will wear a black No. 6 patch on their jerseys for the 2022-23 season and each team’s court will have a No. 6 logo near the scorers’ table. Furthermore, Russell’s No. 6 has been retired leaguewide, a gesture that is the first of its kind in NBA history.

“To mention Bill Russell and the impact that he brought brings to this game is undeniable,” Marcus Smart, Boston’s longest-tenured player, said before the start of the season. “I think for us as fans and competitors we just wish we could still get to witness that. I love the idea of what the league is doing retiring his number all the way. I think it shows the impact he has made on us on and off the court, especially for me being a man of color, to pave the way for me the way that he did, allowing us and my generation to keep going, and do the same for others.”

As an organization, the Celtics will take their tributes a few steps further. They have designed a new court for the upcoming season which prominently features Russell’s jersey number inside both lanes, where he dominated for 13 seasons.

They will also debut a Russell-themed City Edition uniform in Tuesday night’s season-opener which features several tributes, including 11 diamonds on the sides of the jersey to represent his 11 championships, a No. 6 on the belt strap, and script inspired by Boston’s Slade’s Bar & Grill, which was formerly owned by the Celtics Legend.

“What he stood for in this organization and in this league meant a lot,” said Celtics star wing and fellow civil rights leader, Jaylen Brown. “So to be commemorated in an appropriate light is fitting for someone like him. He was a historical figure; he elevated the game of sports, and he used his platform to bring a quality of life to a lot of situations where people were being close-minded.”

Russell was not always celebrated for his efforts. In fact, it was quite the opposite throughout his playing career as he dealt with unjust remarks and actions from those who didn’t support his beliefs. However, that just made him work harder in the fight for civil rights, and that’s why he gained so many admirers over the years.

Among those fans were the grandfathers of Celtics players Malcolm Brogdon and Grant Williams. Williams spoke to that fact in the weeks leading up to Tuesday's celebration.

“It’s an honor for me especially,” Williams said of paying tribute to Russell. “My family, my grandfather, loved the Celtics because of him … It’s one of those things where there’s a certain history behind it and the presence that Bill Russell had not only on the court, but in the community and being an activist and a leader. Not only just dealing with what he had to deal with from people that didn’t look like us on the court, but off the court as well. It’s something that will always be present, and he’ll always have a legacy because of that, because he was a special human being and I’m fortunate and thankful to be playing for this organization. I’m thankful to be honoring him and his legacy.”

It's an honor not only for Celtics players but for players all around the league.

Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry, the recipient of the most recent Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP award, says he’s humbled to have that No. 6 on his chest as one winner representing another.

“I think the things that he dealt with on and off the court and how he still rose above, this is a very special symbol of how far we’ve come, and also to keep his spirit alive in terms of doing the work that he made his life’s worth,” said the four-time NBA champion.

The Celtics will celebrate their greatest champion throughout their first game of the season with tribute videos, poetry, musical performances, and more. They’ll also dedicate their entire season to him, using his inspiration as extra motivation in their quest for another championship banner.

“He represents what the Celtics are all about,” said Al Horford. “I’m just excited to be a part of the team, to be able to honor him, represent him, and continue to carry that legacy.”