After Bill Russell passed away last month, the NBA decided to retire his No. 6 jersey throughout the league. While several players have had their jersey numbers retired by multiple teams, only Russell has the distinction of having his number retired by all NBA teams. It’s a fitting tribute to the 11-time champion.
With that, here’s a lineup of the best players to wear the same number as the Boston Celtics legend.
Power Forward: LeBron James
Russell deserves to be in the GOAT conversation simply by being the winningest player in the NBA. You know who else is part of the GOAT list? LeBron James.
James wore the number 23 during his first run with the Cleveland Cavaliers to honor another GOAT, Michael Jordan. When he signed with the Miami Heat in 2010, he couldn’t continue wearing that number because the Heat retired it to honor His Airness. That’s when James decided to switch to No. 6.
It could be argued that James had his best seasons with the Heat. He averaged 26.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 6.7 assists, all while shooting an incredible 54.3 percent from the field. He gave South Beach fans a lot to cheer for during his four seasons there, winning back-to-back championships with the Heat.
Because of everything he’s done during his four seasons with the team, the jersey No. 6 is now unforgettable in Miami.
Small Forward: Julius Erving
There are a lot of reasons why James chose the number 6. One of those reasons is because his second favorite player, Julius Erving wore that number.
Originally, Erving didn’t wear No. 6. During his time in the ABA, the Doctor rocked jersey No. 32. When he signed with the Philadelphia 76ers in 1976, he switched to No. 6. In 11 seasons with the Sixers, he put up a 22-7-4 statline on a nightly basis.
Beyond the numbers, Erving is best remembered for all the highlights he had in Philly. He was an athletic marvel that could glide through the air and stay there for an extended period of time to make a play.
Who could forget the jaw-dropping play where he took off on the left side of the basket, extended his arm underneath the backboard, swooped under the hoop, and gently kissed the ball off the glass on the right side of the basket? Iconic.
Center: Tyson Chandler
Russell’s impact on Tyson Chandler went beyond his choice of jersey number. Chandler tried to model his game after Russell’s defense-first playing style.
Chandler broke out as a player after he was traded to the New Orleans Hornets in 2007. That was also the first year he wore the same number as Russell. As the starting center of the Hornets, Chandler focused his energy on the defensive end of the court. He prowled the paint, protected the rim, and snatched rebounds. Any offense he could contribute was just a bonus for the teams he played on.
Chandler’s best seasons were the three years he spent with the Hornets and the two years he played with the Dallas Mavericks.
During his time with the Hornets, he led the league in offensive rebounds per game from 2006 (4.4 per game) to 2007 (4.1 per game). He was consistently in the top three in rebounding (11.3 RPG in three seasons) playing with New Orleans. As a member of the Mavericks, Chandler focused on doing the dirty work, allowing Dirk Nowitzki to shine alongside him in the front court. Their pairing resulted in a championship in 2011.
Chandler continued to wear No. 6 in the three years he spent in New York after his championship year with the Mavericks.
Shooting Guard: Eddie Jones
Before King James, it was Eddie Jones who wore the number 6 in Miami. From 2000 to 2005, Jones wore the number with the Heat. During that stretch, he averaged 16.0 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, playing as one of the team’s primary options on offense.
Jones is known more for his smooth playing style in the post-Showtime era LA Lakers. He was part of a young team with Nick Van Exel and Cedric Ceballos. Those Lakers didn’t achieve much when compared to the team of the 80s, but they were fun to watch. Jones was one of the reasons for that.
He was a pure athlete who could get to the rim at will. He was a silky player who just looked at ease doing amazing things on the court. The mid ‘90s Lakers had their own brand of flashiness, different from the teams that came before them, but just as entertaining.
Jones actually didn’t start out his career wearing the number 6. He wore the number 25. He changed numbers after his second season with the Lakers when the team retired No. 25 to honor former star shooting guard, Gail Goodrich.
Point Guard: Avery Johnson
Avery Johnson wasn’t as stylish as the other players on this list. But he was a rock-steady floor general for the San Antonio Spurs for seven seasons. Johnson bridged two eras of the Spurs, manning the point during David Robinson’s peak and continued to lead the way during the early years of Tim Duncan’s career. In 10 seasons with the Spurs, he averaged 10.1 points and 6.9 assists per game, all the while wearing jersey No. 6.
Johnson’s biggest moment came in Game 5 of the 1999 NBA Finals. Down by one point with less than a minute to go, Johnson dumped the ball into Duncan in the post. Duncan kicked the ball out to Sean Elliot who found Johnson open in the left corner. Johnson let it fly and the ball splashed into the net, giving the lead and the championship to the Spurs.