The Best Player in NBA History?
It’s a great debate, and there’s truly no definitive answer. Sorry Michael. You too LeBron.
But twist the question just a little bit to “the Greatest Winner in NBA History,” and the answer is pretty clear. Bill Russell is the only player in league history to be on 11 NBA Championship teams. He was the key to the Boston Celtics dynasty of the late 1950s and 1960s.
Russell died in July at the age of 88. To honor the “Greatest Winner in NBA History,” the NBA is retiring Russell’s #6 — league wide. Players currently wearing the #6 can continue to do so until their careers come to an end, and then that’ll be it. No NBA player will wear the #6 again.
#6 Fun Facts:
— 260 NBA players have worn #6.
— 25 players wore #6 in 2021-22.
— 12 members of Hall-of-Fame wore #6 at some point during playing careers; seven players named Brown have worn #6.
— Though Russell wore the #6 to the greatest NBA success, other outstanding players have worn #6 for significant portions of their careers.
All-NBA #6 1st Team
(teams and years while wearing #6)
Miami Heat 2011-14, Los Angeles Lakers 2022
LeBron James has always thought of himself as a guy who can play any position (and he has), so he’s the point guard on our all #6 first team. James has spent the vast majority of his career in #23 as a Cleveland Cavalier and a Los Angeles Laker, but he wore #6 in his four seasons with Miami. In that stretch, the Heat went to the NBA Finals every year and twice won the NBA Championship. LeBron wore #23 in his first three seasons with the Lakers, but switched to #6 last season. He averaged 30.3 points per game at the age of 37, the second highest scoring average of his career.
Phoenix Suns 1977-88, Denver Nuggets 1988-92, Portland Trail Blazers 1991
Davis was a 6-time All-Star in 15 NBA seasons, with three different teams — but all of All-Star selections came as a member of the Phoenix Suns. In his rookie-of-the-year season in 1977-78, Davis averaged 24.2 points per game, but it turned out to be his career high. He averaged 20.5 points per game in his 11 seasons with Phoenix, and 18.9 for his career.
Philadelphia 76ers 1976-1987
Dr. J wore the #32 during his five seasons in the ABA, but switched to #6 when he moved to the NBA, or wore the number in all 11 of his NBA seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers. Erving was an 11-time NBA All-Star, the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 1981, an NBA Champion in 1983, and was inducted into the Basketball Hall-of-Fame in 1993.
New York Knicks 2015-18, Dallas Mavericks – 2019-22, Washington Wizards – 2022
Yes, Porzingis has been a little perplexing at times during his six NBA seasons. He’s also been dang good. He’s scored over 20 points a game in four seasons, along with 7.9 rebounds for his career. He was an All-Star in 2017-18 with the Knicks. Porzingis is only 27-years-old, and if he continues to play as he has so far in his NBA career, he’ll be a Hall-of-Famer. Seriously, what Hall-of Fame doesn’t need a 7’3” Latvian?
Boston Celtics 1956-69
Of course Bill Russell is the starting center on the Bill Russell-inspired team. Along with the 11 championships as a player, Russell was a 12-time all-star in his 13 seasons, and a 5-time Most Valuable Player. He averaged only15.1 points per game in his career, and never more than 18.9 in a season. But Russell averaged 22.5 rebounds a game in his career, and 21 or more rebounds a game for 10 straight seasons. That’s just silly.
Side story! At the 1997 All-Star weekend in Cleveland, the NBA honored it’s 50 greatest players as part of it’s 50th anniversary celebration. At a media session, most of the 50 players were seated at individual tables in a ballroom. A young reporter (not me, but I was there and heard it) asked Russell, “what do you think about being named one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players?” Russell’s response: “Who, me??? Oh, I knew that.” Fabulous.
All-NBA #6 2nd Team
Houston Rockets 1992, Golden State Warriors 1993-94, 2004, San Antonio Spurs 1994-2001, Denver Nuggets 2001-02, Dallas Mavericks 2003
Johnson wore #15 for his first four NBA seasons, and appeared to be on his way to a fine career in Luxembourg. He switched to #6 when he was traded to Houston in 1992, and went on to become a pretty good starting point guard, mostly with the Spurs. He was on San Antonio’s 1999 Championship team.
Los Angeles Lakers 1996-99, Charlotte Hornets 1999-2000, Miami Heat 2000-2005, 2007, Memphis Grizzlies 2006-07, Dallas Mavericks 2007-08
Jones wore #25 in his first two seasons with the Lakers, then switched to #6 and made the first of three career All-Star teams. Eddie was better than you might remember. He averaged at least 11.8 points a game for 12 straight seasons, and 14.8 for his 14 season career.
Portland Trail Blazers 1998-2004, Memphis Grizzlies 2004-05, Houston Rockets 2007-08
Wells averaged double figures in scoring for six straight seasons, averaging a career high 17.0 with Portland in 2001-02. And Bonzi? If your real first name was Gawen, you’d go by Bonzi too.
New Jersey Nets 2000-04, Denver Nuggets 2004-11, Milwaukee Bucks 2014-15
The best seasons of Martin’s career were in #6 for the Nets and the Nuggets. He averaged a career high 161.6 points per game and made his only All-Star team in 2003-04 with New Jersey.
Philadelphia Warriors 1951-59
Johnston was a 6’8″ center who made six All-Star teams in eight NBA seasons, all with the Philadelphia Warriors. He lead the NBA in scoring for three straight seasons, and in 1954-55, led the league in both scoring and rebounding. His Warriors won the NBA Championship in 1956. Johnston was inducted into the Hall-of-Fame in 1990. After retiring in 1959, Johnston was the Warriors’ head coach for two seasons. He was replaced as the starting center by a young fella named Wilt.
All-NBA #6 Honorable Mentions
Really good layers who barely wore #6