LOS ANGELES — In a nod to Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell, LeBron James will change his uniform number from 6 to 23 for the Los Angeles Lakers next season, Klutch Sports Group’s Rich Paul told ESPN on Saturday. .
“It’s LeBron’s call,” said Paul, James’ longtime friend and agent. “He chose to do it out of respect for Bill Russell.”
Last summer, after Russell died at the age of 88, the NBA retired the No. 6 from the league, the first time a player has been honored in such a way. Current players wearing the number 6 at the time were grandfathered in and could keep the number if they wished.
The timing of the league’s announcement made it a logistical impossibility to stock enough replica James jerseys to meet fan demand before the 2022-23 season began. James’ Lakers uniform No. 6 led all player jersey sales on NBAStore.com during the second half of 2022-23, according to a league announcement.
“For us to lose an icon like that, it was heartbreaking for all of us,” James told ESPN at the start of training camp in September. “I mean, it doesn’t matter if you play, watch the game or part of the game. We all know what Bill Russell meant to the NBA, obviously to the Celtics off the court as well, in terms of his heroism … and what it meant for blacks, being able to talk about issues that are not comfortable.
“For me to be able to wear number 6 this season, I’m not sure if I’ll continue to do it, but now I’m going to wear it in honor of him. It means a lot to me.” .”
Russell was an 11-time champion with the Celtics, a five-time MVP and a 12-time All-Star, and became the first black head coach in league history, winning his last two rings as Boston player-coach. Known as the sport’s top winner, Russell was honored in 2009 when the NBA Finals MVP trophy was named after him.
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 number 6 in international competition for Team USA and later wore it during all four seasons he played for the Miami Heat, as the organization had already retired number 23 in honor of Michael Jordan . He returned to No. 23 from 2014 to 2021, the entirety of his second stint in Cleveland, plus his first three seasons in Los Angeles, then wore No. 6 again in his final two seasons for the Lakers.
In total, James has worn No. 23 in 14 of his 20 NBA seasons, and it will become 15 of 21 when he suits up for the Lakers in the fall.