Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James has made the decision to switch his jersey number from 6 back to 23 for the upcoming season as a tribute to the late NBA legend Bill Russell. James had worn the number 6 jersey for the Lakers last season, which was made famous by Russell, who passed away in July 2022. Following Russell’s death, the NBA made the historic decision to retire the number 6 league-wide, but active players who already wore the number were allowed to continue doing so.
LeBron’s choice to switch his jersey number is a personal one, motivated by his deep respect for Bill Russell. Rich Paul, James’ agent, confirmed this, stating, “It’s LeBron’s decision. He chose to [switch numbers] out of respect for Bill Russell.” James has always held Russell in high regard and considers him an all-time great who played a significant role in his development as a player.
The NBA’s decision to retire the number 6 across the league was an unprecedented move, honoring the incredible impact and legacy of Bill Russell. However, the timing of the decision presented challenges for teams and players alike, particularly for someone as popular as LeBron James. Teams would have needed to restock their merchandise with new numbers, causing logistical difficulties. Nonetheless, James expressed his admiration for Russell when training camp began last year, saying, “For us to lose such an icon, it was heartbreaking for all of us. 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.”
LeBron James has been known to switch between jersey numbers throughout his illustrious career. He originally wore No. 23 during his time with the Cleveland Cavaliers, then transitioned to No. 6 when he played for Team USA. James resumed wearing No. 6 when he joined the Miami Heat, as the Heat had already retired No. 23 in honor of Michael Jordan. However, upon his return to Cleveland for his second stint with the Cavaliers, James switched back to No. 23. He continued to wear No. 23 for his first two seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers before donning the No. 6 jersey for the last three years. With his decision to switch back to No. 23, LeBron will have worn that number for a total of 14 out of his 21 NBA seasons.
LeBron James has consistently been a leader in jersey sales throughout his career, and this change is likely to generate significant interest among fans. However, his decision to switch numbers is primarily driven by his desire to pay homage to Bill Russell, who he idolized and learned from as a fellow all-time great. By vacating the No. 6, James ensures that no Lakers player will ever wear it again, further solidifying Russell’s legacy.
As the Lakers gear up for the upcoming season, LeBron James seems as motivated as ever to guide his team back to the postseason and pursue another championship in Los Angeles. If he achieves that feat, he will do so with the No. 23 jersey across his chest—a symbol of respect for Bill Russell and a reminder of the rich history and traditions of the game of basketball.