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NBA unveils No. 6 patch to honor Bill Russell across league

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Because the longest-tenured player on the Celtics, Marcus Smart has been in Boston long enough to understand what Bill Russell meant to the team, town and the country.

“We’ve heard things like ‘pioneer,’ ‘trailblazer,’” Smart said Monday while wearing a patch honoring the Celtics Hall of Famer who died this summer. “To say, you recognize, Bill Russell and the impact that he dropped at this game is undeniable.”

The centerpiece of the Celtics dynasty that won 11 championships in 13 years, Russell is being honored this season not only for his unmatched success on the court but for a lifetime commitment to civil rights. The NBA has announced that it is going to retire his No. 6 league-wide, and each player will wear a black No. 6 patch on his jersey.

The Celtics produce other tributes planned, with two nights put aside to honor Russell’s legacy, including the Oct. 18 opener. They’ve painted the No. 6 within the free throw lane.

“The presence that Bill Russell had — not only on the court, but locally — it’s something that can at all times be present, and he’ll at all times have a legacy due to that,” Celtics forward Grant Williams said, adding that Boston was his grandfather’s favorite team due to Russell. “I’m fortunate to be playing for this organization.”

Players who’re already wearing No. 6 can keep it, and Nuggets center DeAndre Jordan was amongst those that said he would accomplish that to honor Russell’s legacy. (Major League Baseball did the identical in 1997 when it retired Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 across the AL and NL, and Yankees closer Mariano Rivera continued to wear it until he retired in 2013.)

Bulls guard Alex Caruso said he looked into switching his uniform No. 6 this season but was told he had to maintain it because he’s in the highest 75 in jersey sales. Caruso wore No. 4 with the Lakers but Chicago has retired it for Jerry Sloan and No. 6 was the “best-looking number in the only digits that was left.”

“Obviously, I need to do nothing but honor him and his legacy and what he stood for because he’s considered one of the pioneers of racial advocacy for the sport of basketball normally and just all-around great person,” he said. “I don’t know anybody that talks about him or knew him that had anything negative to say.”

Along with the jersey patch, teams may even have a No. 6 on their courts near the scorer’s tables.

“I’m glad we get to recollect him like this,” said Memphis Grizzlies big man Jaren Jackson Jr. “He’s definitely watching over the sport, watching over our jerseys like, ‘Yep.’ It’s special man. Quite a lot of rings for him.”

It has been a tumultuous offseason for the Celtics, who were two wins from winning an unprecedented 18th NBA championship last season. Over the summer, newly signed free agent Danilo Gallinari tore his ACL and was lost for the season, and center Robert Williams III also needed surgery and won’t be available for the opener.

Jaylen Brown was mentioned in trade talks for All-Star Kevin Durant, leaving him to doubt the team’s commitment to him. After which, just three days before the beginning of coaching camp, coach Ime Udoka was suspended for all the season.

Brown said it was vital to recollect Russell’s struggles against racism within the Sixties and understand the team’s current turmoil pales compared.

“Desirous about his legacy and what he stood for and the quantity of adversity he went through is nothing like we have now now,” Brown said.

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AP Sports Writers Andrew Seligman, Teresa Walker and Kyle Hightower contributed to this story.

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