LeBron James is entering his 21st season in the NBA and is ripe for some change.
When he takes the court as a Los Angeles Laker in the fall, he switches from jersey number six back to 23. While he may have personal reasons to change things up, it’s also out of respect for Bill Russell.
Russell wore number six during his two-decade-long career, most notably with the Boston Celtics, but sadly passed away just before the 2022-23 season in July.
James’ long friend and agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports Group, told ESPN on Saturday of the choice.
“It’s LeBron’s decision,” said Paul. “He chose to out of respect for Bill Russell.”
Upon Russell’s passing last summer, the league retired the number six 6 league-wide. It was the first time such a sweeping decision was made and only players who had already donned the number were grandfathered in. James was one of those players, but now that season has passed and ample time has been given for jersey producers to change their number, he’s back to 23.
After all, with over two decades in the league, James still has the NBA’s top-selling jersey as recently as April, with Steph Curry, Jayson Tatum, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Luka Doncic rounding out the top five.
Weeks after Russell’s death, James spoke about how much he meant to the game of basketball and as a civil rights pioneer.
“For us to lose such an icon, it was heartbreaking for all of us,” James said at the start of training camp in September. “I mean, no matter if you play the game, watch the game, or a part of the game. We all know what Bill Russell meant to the NBA, obviously to the Celtics off the floor as well, as far as his heroism … and what he meant to Black people, being able to speak about issues that are not comfortable.”
Even then, he made it clear he’d wear number six during the 2022-23 season but wasn’t sure what he’d do afterward.
James first wore number six as a member of Team USA and again as part of Miami’s Big Three. His reverence for number 23 reportedly comes from his admiration and respect for Michael Jordan.
See Twitter’s reaction to the jersey switch-up below.
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