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Magic Johnson joins calls for the NBA to retire the No 6 across the league in honor of Bill Russell

Hall of Famer Magic Johnson has called for NBA legend Bill Russell’s number to be retired from league-wide.

Russell, an 11-time NBA champion and champion of civil rights, passed away on Sunday at the age of 88.

He was one of the most influential basketball players in history and tributes, led by former President Barack Obama, poured in after the death of the Celtics legend.

Magic Johnson has called for NBA legend Bill Russell's number to be retired throughout the league

Magic Johnson has called for NBA legend Bill Russell’s number to be retired throughout the league

Russell was an iconic number 6 for the Celtics and the number has already been retired by the team

Russell was an iconic number 6 for the Celtics and the number has already been retired by the team

Some have now taken their admiration for Russell one step further with observers calling on the NBA to withdraw his number 6 jersey for the entire league.

Former Lakers point guard Johnson added his voice to the mix as he joined those calling on NBA commissioner Adam Silver to make the move.

Johnson wrote on Twitter: ‘Commissioner Adam Silver should retire #6 in the @NBA in honor of Bill Russell’s legacy!’

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Johnson took to Twitter to join the calls for NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to take action

Johnson took to Twitter to join the calls for NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to take action

The number 6 has already been retired by the Celtics, but the move would immortalize him in the NBA, as the number 42 in the MLB was in honor of Jackie Robinson.

It would rightfully reinforce Russell’s legacy as a court champion and civil rights pioneer.

Russell’s 11 titles with the Celtics came in one of the sport’s most dominant eras between 1956 and 1969, but while playing for Boston, he endured significant racism and abuse.

But Russell used his position to push for equality throughout his life. Notably, he was present at the 1963 Washington March, when Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, and he supported Muhammad Ali when the boxer was pilloried for refusing to participate in military service.

The move would cement Russell's legacy as a court champion and civil rights pioneer

The move would cement Russell’s legacy as a court champion and civil rights pioneer

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)

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)

Johnson’s field faces an obstacle, however, as the number 6 is the jersey currently worn by LeBron James and the plan may not go down too well with the Lakers.

James made the move to the No. 6 in 2021 after wearing the No. 23 in Los Angeles for the first three seasons. He also wore the number during his four-year stint with the Miami Heat.

He explained the decision to: the athleticsaying, ‘It’s always been a part of me, to be honest.

LeBron James wears the number 6 with the Lakers

LeBron James wears the number 6 with the Lakers

“Six means a lot to me, from my family and grades and things like that to what I believe in and things like that, but my mindset doesn’t change.”

However, James has switched between the two numbers throughout his career and another switch could pave the way for Johnson’s call for the unprecedented honour.

Russell also won an Olympic gold medal in Melbourne with the United States in 1956 and two NCAA titles in San Francisco in 1955 and 56, success that paved the way for him to become a five-time NBA MVP and twelve-time All-Star.

Russell averaged 15.1 points and 22.5 rebounds over 13 seasons (1956-69) with the Celtics. He was first inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 1975 and then again as a coach in 2021.

In addition to his civil rights work, he is considered one of the greatest winners in American sports history and the greatest defensive player in NBA history.

The Louisiana native has also left a lasting impression as a black athlete in a city — and country — where racing is often a flashpoint.

In 2011, Russell received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Obama – the highest civilian honor in the United States.

In 2011, Russell received the Presidential Medal of Freedom - the highest civilian honor

In 2011, Russell received the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the highest civilian honor

Former President Barack Obama (left) led the tribute to the greats, saying 'we lost a great'

Former President Barack Obama (left) led the tribute to the greats, saying ‘we lost a great’

When Obama learned of his death, he tweeted, “Today we lost a giant. As great as Bill Russell was, his legacy rises much higher – both as a player and as a person.

“Perhaps 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. Aside from that, he was a civil rights pioneer – marching with Dr. King and standing with Muhammad Ali.

Bill has tolerated insults and vandalism for decades, but never let it stop him from standing 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 to pay tribute to the NBA great.

He tweeted: “He was one of the first athletes on the frontline to fight 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 to make things better in the black community.”

HIS MEMORABLE RIVALRY WITH WILT CHAMBERLAIN

BY ALEX RASKIN, SPORTS NEWS EDITOR

For all his success and civil rights work, it may be Russell’s longstanding rivalry with friend and fellow Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain that fans will remember best.

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 per game as a rookie. That offensive firepower perfectly complemented the defensive Russell and inspired sportswriters to name their first encounters “The Big Collision” and “Battle of the Titans.”

Statistically, Chamberlain dominated Russell in 94 regular season meetings, averaging 30 points and 28.2 rebounds per game.

Financially, Russell was slightly ahead of Chamberlain, who became the first NBA player to receive a $100,000 salary in 1965, only to see Celtics coach and executive Red Auerbach give his center a $100,000 raise annually.

Russell, of course, made his biggest impression in the victory column, with 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 LA Lakers rival Wilt Chamberlain in 1969

Russell (left) in action against his LA Lakers rival Wilt Chamberlain in 1969

It was in LA that Russell Chamberlain inflicted his most devastating defeat.

Chamberlain, the reigning MVP in 1968, was traded to LA, where he immediately made the Lakers favorites to win an NBA title and end the Celtics dynasty.

Instead, the aging Celtics reached the final 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.

When Russell saw the balloons tied with a net in the rafters of the Forum, he is said to have told Lakers legend Jerry West, “those damn balloons stay up there.”

He was right and the Celtics won 108-106, while Chamberlain missed the fourth quarter with a knee injury. (He reportedly attempted to return to the game but was prevented from doing so by Lakers coach Butch Van Breda Kolff)

Chamberlain and Russell didn’t speak for nearly 20 years after that, allegedly because Russell had criticized his friend’s performance on the series to reporters.

However, the two reconciled and were on good terms when Chamberlain died of heart problems in 1999 at the age of 63. His cousin later revealed that Russell was one of the first people he had to inform about Chamberlain’s death.

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