LeBron James Is Switching His Number from 6 to 23 to Honor Bill Russell: Here’s Why
LeBron James is making a big change for the upcoming NBA season.
The Los Angeles Lakers superstar has decided to switch his jersey number from 6 back to 23, which he wore for his first three seasons in LA.
The reason behind the switch is not just a personal preference, but a tribute to one of the greatest players in NBA history: Bill Russell.
The legendary Boston Celtics center, who won 11 championships and five MVP awards, passed away in July 2022 at the age of 87.
The NBA retired Russell’s number 6 league-wide last August, and James wore it for one final season to honor him.
James’ agent, Rich Paul, told ESPN that James chose to switch back to 23 out of respect for Russell.
How Did LeBron James and Bill Russell Become Friends?
James and Russell had a close friendship that spanned over a decade.
They first met in 2010, when James was playing for the Miami Heat and Russell was presenting him with the MVP trophy.
James said he was starstruck by Russell, who gave him some words of wisdom and encouragement.
He later said that Russell was one of his mentors and inspirations and that he learned a lot from him about basketball and life.
James and Russell also bonded over their social activism and their fight for racial justice.
They both spoke out against police brutality and systemic racism and supported the Black Lives Matter movement.
James often praised Russell for his courage and leadership, calling him “the greatest champion in the history of our game” and “the ultimate example of black excellence.”
How Did LeBron James Honor Bill Russell After His Death?
James was devastated by Russell’s death, which came just days after they had a phone conversation.
He said he was grateful for their last talk and would miss Russell dearly.
James posted a heartfelt tribute to Russell on his Instagram account, sharing a series of photos and videos of them together. He wrote:
“I’m so lucky and blessed that I was able to have conversations with you throughout my career! You always kept it real with me no matter what! and gave me so much knowledge about this game but more importantly about life! You are the true definition of BLACK EXCELLENCE!!”
James also said he would dedicate his next season to Russell, and that he would try to make him proud. He wrote:
“I will miss you, my friend! Rest easy Legend!! This season is dedicated to you!! #6 #23”
What Does LeBron James’ Number Change Mean for the Lakers?
James’ number change is not just a symbolic gesture, but also a practical one.
By switching back to 23, he will avoid any confusion or controversy with the league’s policy of retiring Russell’s number 6.
He will also be able to wear the same number as his new teammate, Russell Westbrook, who joined the Lakers in a blockbuster trade this summer.
Westbrook has worn number 0 throughout his career, but he said he would switch to number 4 in LA out of respect for Jerry West, who wore number 44 as a Laker.
Westbrook said he chose number 4 because it was his high school number, and because it represented his family of four: himself, his wife Nina, and their two children Noah and Skye.
James and Westbrook will join forces with Anthony Davis, who will keep his number 3 jersey, to form a formidable trio for the Lakers.
The team will be aiming to bounce back from an injury-plagued season that ended with a first-round playoff exit.
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