NBA retires Bill Russell’s number: Who will be the last player to wear No. 6?

NBA retires Bill Russell's number: Who will be the last player to wear No. 6?
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In honor of the legendary Bill Russell, the NBA retired his number league-wide on Thursday. Nobody will wear No. 6 for the Orlando Magic or Sacramento Kings again.

Actually, even before this news, nobody was going to wear No. 6 for the Magic or Kings. Both franchises retired it for “the sixth man,” ie their fans. This is the kind of thing you learn when you’re researching who most recently wore the number for every team and who might be the last to wear it in the entire league.

Players wearing No. 6 going into next season “will be grandfathered,” the NBA announced in a press release. Should any of these players change teams, they will be able to continue wearing No. 6, according to a league spokesperson.

This means that, for teams that had not already retired the number, it is not strictly accurate to say that no one will wear it again. That said, here are the players who most recently wore No. 6 for every team in the league:

  • Atlanta Hawks: Lou Williams, 2021-22 — Williams, whose second stint with his hometown team — and first wearing No. 6 — began at the 2021 trade deadline, is a free agent.
  • Brooklyn Nets: David Duke Jr., 2021-present
  • Boston Celtics: Bill Russell, 1956-1969
  • Charlotte Hornets: Jalen McDaniels, 2019-present
  • Chicago Bulls: Alex Caruso, 2021-present
  • Cleveland Cavaliers: Moses Brown, 2022
  • Dallas Mavericks: Kristaps Porzingis, 2019-22
  • Denver Nuggets: DeAndre Jordan, 2022-present
  • Detroit Pistons: Hamidou Diallo, 2021-present
  • Golden State Warriors: Alen Smailagic, 2019-21
  • Houston Rockets: Kenyon Martin Jr., 2020-present
  • Indiana Pacers: Lance Stephenson, 2010-12; 2022 — Stephenson, whose third stint in Indiana began in January with a series of COVID hardship exceptions and 10-day contracts, is a free agent.
  • Los Angeles Clippers: Moses Brown, 2022-present — Brown is the only player aside from the next guy on this list to appear on it more than once.
  • Los Angeles Lakers: LeBron James, 2021-present
  • Memphis Grizzlies: Kenneth Lofton Jr., 2022-present — Lofton, who signed a two-way contract with Memphis after going undrafted, has worn No. 6 in promotional photos and wore the number in summer league. There is no number listed next to his name, however, on the Grizzlies’ official roster page. When asked via email if Lofton had officially been issued the number, the team did not immediately respond. (Otherwise, the Grizzly to wear No. 6 most recently was Shaq Buchanan, who appeared in two games in late December last season on a 10-day contract.)
  • Miami Heat: LeBron James, 2010-2014
  • Milwaukee Bucks: Luca Vildoza, 2022-present
  • Minnesota Timberwolves: Jordan McLaughlin, 2019-present
  • New Orleans Pelicans: Tyrone Wallace, 2022 — If not for Wallace signing two 10-day contracts with the Pelicans in March, Nickeil Alexander-Walker would represent two teams on this list.
  • New York Knicks: Quentin Grimes, 2021-present
  • Oklahoma City Thunder: Jaylin Williams, 2022-present
  • Orlando Magic: Patrick Ewing, 2001-02 — Ewing, who spent his final season in the NBA with the Magic, is the only player to ever wear No. 6 for the team.
  • philadelphia 76ers: Julius Erving, 1976-1987
  • Phoenix Suns: Walter Davis, 1977-1988 — Davis is the only player to ever wear No. 6 for the Suns.
  • Portland Trail Blazers: Keon Johnson, 2022-present
  • San Antonio Spurs: Avery Johnson, 1992-1993; 1994-2001
  • Sacramento Kings: Bob Burrow, 1956-57 — When Burrow wore No. 6, the franchise was known as the Rochester Royals. The team moved to Cincinnati the next year, and, while it has since played home games in Kansas City, Omaha and Sacramento, one thing has remained consistent: Nobody has worn No. 6.
  • Toronto Raptors: Cory Joseph, 2015-17
  • utah jazz: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, 2022-present
  • washington wizards: Kristaps Porzingis, 2022-present

So, who might be the last player to wear No. 6 on an NBA court? Of the 16 players currently wearing it (including Lofton, excluding Lou Williams and Stephenson), five were born in the 2000s:

  • Kenneth Lofton Jr. (born Aug. 14, 2002)
  • Jaylin Williams (born June 29, 2002)
  • Keon Johnson: 20 (March 10, 2002)
  • Kenyon Martin Jr (Jan. 6, 2001)
  • Quentin Grimes (May 8, 2000)

Additionally, David Duke Jr. and Moses Brown share a birthday: Oct. 13, 1999.

It is possible that the last player to wear No. 6 in the NBA will not be in the above group, but those guys will all be 22 or younger when training camp begins in September and will be allowed to wear it for the duration of their careers. If you’re trying to make an educated guess, that’s a good place to start.

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