The Toronto Raptors franchise, like the rest of the NBA world, was dealt a crushing blow this August. Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell, who is without question a Top 10 player in NBA history and an outspoken civil rights activist, passed away at the age of 88.
Russell’s achievements include 11 championship rings, five MVP awards, and recognition as both the first Black head coach in the NBA and the first to win a championship. His is one of the most extraordinary lives in not just NBA history, but North American sports history.
Few honors that the league can bestow upon Russell can adequately describe what he has done as a force for good in and out of the crucible of competition. As such, the league made an unprecedented move that ties in Russell’s legend with all 30 current NBA franchises.
The NBA announced that they would retire Russell’s No. 6 across the league, citing his excellent play on the court, groundbreaking coaching career, and commitment to social justice and civil rights off the floor. As such, No. 6 becomes the first number that no Raptors player will ever know again.
Toronto Raptors: Bill Russell’s No.6 was officially retired.
The last player to wear No. 6 for the Raptors was Cory Joseph, who served as a backup point guard for two seasons under Dwane Casey. Names like Jermaine O’Neal, Alan Anderson, and Jérôme Moïso all wore Russell’s number during their brief Raptors tenures.
Picking which player would have the first retired number hoisted above Scotiabank Arena was a passionate debate among segments of this fanbase. Kyle Lowry’s No. 7, DeMar DeRozan’s No. 10, and Vince Carter’s No. 15 all had legitimate claims to that title. Surprisingly, a former Celtic gets to claim this honor.
While some fans might object to calling Russell’s honor a proper number retirement, the fact of the matter is that no Raptors is wearing No. 6 ever again. The causes Russell helped fight for while simultaneously being the greatest defensive player the league has ever seen should be enough for the Raptors to acknowledge his greatness.
Even though the Raptors lack tons of connections to Russell, the whole franchise owes a debt to him for his ability to break down barriers and eventually become one of the seminal players in the history of the league. No NBA player could provide an accurate facsimile of Russell or his legacy, so retiring No. 6 makes sense.