The number 6 is everywhere this NBA season. It’s on jerseys, courts, basket stanchions, shorts, everywhere. There’s even a shaded number 6 in the paint on the parquet.
That’s Bill Russell’s number.
We lost Bill Russell on July 31. Shortly thereafter, the NBA decided to retire his number 6 across the NBA. Players who currently wear it are grandfathered in to keep the number. But soon, no one will wear number 6 again.
Of course, number 6 has been retired by the Boston Celtics for decades.
When it comes to basketball, Bill Russell was the greatest winner the NBA has ever seen. He’s likely to stay the greatest winner the NBA has ever seen for a very long time too, maybe forever. Such is life when you have more rings to wear than you have fingers to put them on.
All of the on-court tributes are wonderful. Being completely honest, they are long overdue. The Celtics have many events planned throughout the season to honor Russell and his legacy too, as does the NBA as a whole.
But the best way for the 2022-23 Boston Celtics to honor Bill Russell on the court is to do what he did better than anyone else. It’s time to hang another banner in the Garden.
The Celtics have all the pieces. They’ve got the superstar in Jayson Tatum. They’ve got the burgeoning star in Jaylen Brown (All-NBA breakout inbound). Boston has the steady, reliable vets in Al Horford and newly acquired Malcolm Brogdon. They’ve got the quick-twitch decision-making of Derrick White. They’ve got Grant Williams doing a little bit of everything, all of a sudden in a contract year.
Eventually, the Celtics will have Robert Williams patrolling the paint and snatching shots out of the sky like Russell once did. And Boston has Marcus Smart, whose leave-it-on-the-floor, blood-sweat-and-tears style of play possibly resembles Russell’s desire, no…need, to win more than anyone else on the roster.
The Celtics got close last year. A few less turnovers and a couple more stops, and we’d be talking about the chances of repeat.
Bill Russell lost in the NBA Finals once too. Then he led teams that won eight consecutive championships.
Boston doesn’t have to rip off a run like that to make Bill Russell proud. One will do. Removing that bothersome tie with the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers is enough…for now.
When the Celtics put together a 66-16 regular season in 2007-08, Russell sat down with Kevin Garnett to talk about life and basketball. Russell told Garnett that no matter what happened that season, he would be proud of him. Russell also told Garnett that he’d share one of his titles with him, if Garnett never got one himself. When Boston won Banner 17, Garnett, through a mask of earned tears, told Russell he got his own.
Now, it’s time for the Celtics to make Russell proud of them by this group getting one of their own.
Bill Russell won’t be here to meet with players and give them advice, along with that raspy, high-pitched laugh after delivering a zinger or two. But Russell is ever-present for the Celtics this season.
In Boston, there are reminders everywhere. On the floor and in the rafters. But whenever the Celtics are on the road, #6 will be there too. Bill Russell with shepherd the Celtics through the season everywhere they go. A constant reminder of what they are playing for and who they are playing to honor.
15 years in a long time without a banner. Too long, in fact. It’s time for another one. This group has all the pieces and they’ve got all the motivation they need to hang Banner 18.
This one’s for Russ.