LeBron James to change jersey number to 23 in honor of Bill Russell

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 this coming season, Klutch Sports Group’s Rich Paul told ESPN.

“It’s LeBron’s decision,” said Paul, James’ longtime friend and agent. “He chose out of respect for Bill Russell.”

Last summer, after Russell died at the age of 88, the NBA retired the league’s No. 6 – the first time a player had been honored in this way. Current players wearing No. 6 at the time were grandfathered and could keep the number if they wished.

The timing of the league’s announcement made it logistically impossible to stock enough replica James jerseys to meet fan demand before the start of the 2022-23 season. James’ Lakers No. 6 uniform topped all player jersey sales on NBAStore.com for the second half of 2022-23, according to a league announcement.

“For us to lose such an icon, 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’re playing the game, watching the game or part of the game. We all know what Bill Russell meant to the NBA, obviously to the Celtics from the ground as well, in terms of his heroism.. …and what it meant to black people, being able to talk about issues that aren’t comfortable.

“For me to be able to wear number 6 this season – I don’t know if I’ll continue to do so, but right now I’m going to wear it in his honor. It means a lot to me.”

Russell was an 11-time champion with the Celtics, five-time MVP and 12-time All-Star, and he became the first black head coach in league history, earning his last two rings as a player-coach for Boston. Known as the sport’s ultimate winner, Russell was honored in 2009 when the NBA Finals MVP trophy was named in his honor.

James is a four-time recipient of the award, with Russell personally presenting him with the trophy following the Cleveland Cavaliers’ memorable Game 7 win over the Golden State Warriors in 2016.

James first wore No. 6 in international competition for Team USA, then wore it for the four seasons he played for the Miami Heat, as the organization had already retired No. 23 in l honor of Michael Jordan. He returned to No. 23 from 2014 to 2021 — his entire 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 that will become 15 of 21 when he suits up for the Lakers in the fall.

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