Dave McMenamin | ESPNReading: 4 min.
LOS ANGELES — A nod to legend Boston Celtics, Bill Russell and LeBron James will change their jersey number from 6 to 23 next season with the Los Angeles Lakers, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports Group told ESPN.
“It was LeBron’s call,” said Paul, James’ longtime friend and agent. “He chose to do it out of respect for Bill Russell.”
After Russell died last summer at the age of 88, the NBA retired No. 6, the first time a player was honored in that category. Current players wearing No. 6 at the time were grandfathered in and could keep it if they wanted.
The timing of the league’s announcement made it impossible to stock replica James jerseys to meet fan demand before the start of the 2022-23 season. James’ Lakers’ No. 6 uniform led all players’ jersey sales on NBAStore.com in the second half of the 22-23 season, according to a league announcement.
“It was heartbreaking for us to lose that icon,” James told ESPN at the start of training camp in September. “I mean, it doesn’t matter if you play, watch the game, or watch part of the game. We all know what Bill Russell means to the NBA, obviously off the court to the Celtics, in terms of his heroics . . . and what it means to be able to talk about issues that African-Americans are uncomfortable with. ?
“I’ll be able to wear No. 6 this season, I’m not sure I’ll continue to do it, but now I’m going to wear it as a tribute to him. It means a lot to me.”
Russell was an 11-time champion, five-time MVP, 12-time All-Star and became the first African-American head coach in league history with the Celtics, winning his last two rings as a Boston player-coach. Known as the game’s greatest scorer, the NBA Finals MVP trophy is named after Russell.
James is a four-time recipient of the award, and Russell personally presented him with the trophy after the Cleveland Cavaliers’ memorable Game 7 victory over the Golden State Warriors in 2016.
James first wore No. 6 in international competition for Team USA, then for all four seasons he played for the Miami Heat, as the organization already wore No. 23 in honor of Michael Jordan. He returned 23 from 2014-2021, the entirety of his second stint in Cleveland, his first two seasons in Los Angeles and 6 of his last three seasons with the Lakers.
After all, James has worn the jersey in 13 of his 20 NBA seasons, and that will become 14 of 21 when he suits up for the Lakers in the fall.