Magic Johnson Calls on NBA to Retire Bill Russell’s No. 6 League-wide

Tributes have been pouring in since the death of Bill Russell, whose unparalleled success as an NBA champion was matched only by his impact off the field.

Magic Johnson would like to see his legacy formalized across the league. The Los Angeles Lakers Hall of Fame point guard on Tuesday called on the NBA and Commissioner Adam Silver to retire Russell’s No. 6 jersey in the entire league. He made his pitch on Twitter.

The proposed move would immortalize Russell’s number 6 alongside that of number 42 in MLB, who is retiring from baseball in honor of Jackie Robinson. Russell’s legacy as a field champion and civil rights pioneer certainly makes him an intriguing candidate for what would be an unprecedented NBA honor. It’s a convincing pitch from Magic.

Bill Russell and Magic Johnson honored at the 2017 NBA All-Star Game (Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

But there’s one glaring problem with Johnson’s plan, which may not come across very well in Lakers land. At least in the short term. LeBron James wears number 6. He made the switch in 2021 after wearing number 23 during his first three seasons in Los Angeles. It’s the same number he wore during his four-year career with the Miami Heat.

Here’s how he explained the decision.

“It’s always been a part of me, to be honest,” James said in 2021. “Six has a lot of meaning to me, from my family and numbers and things like that to what I believe in and things like that, but my mindset doesn’t change.”

James has scrolled back and forth from No. 23 to No. 6 throughout his career. Would he be on board to return to No. 23 in case Johnson’s field gains traction while he’s still in the league? There is clearly still a long way to go before that becomes a concern.

So far, no word from James — or Silver — about Johnson’s suggestion.

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