LeBron James number back to 23

LeBron James to change jersey number back to 23 in honor of Bill Russell. LOS ANGELES — In a nod to Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell, LeBron James will change his uniform number from No. 6 back to No. 23 for the Los Angeles Lakers this coming season, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports Group told ESPN.

“It’s LeBron’s decision,” said Paul, James’ longtime friend and agent. “He chose to out of respect for Bill Russell.”


Last summer, after Russell died at the age of 88, the NBA retired No. 6 across the league — the first time a player was honored in such a fashion. Current players wearing No. 6 at the time were grandfathered in and could keep the number should they so choose.


The timing of the league’s announcement made it a logistical impossibility to stock enough replica James jerseys to meet fan demand before the 2022-23 season started. James’ No. 6 Lakers uniform led all player jersey sales on NBAStore.com for the second half of 2022-23, according to a league announcement.

“For us to lose such an icon, it was heartbreaking for all of us,” James told ESPN 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.


“For me to be able to wear No. 6 this season — I’m not sure if I’ll continue to do it, but right now I’m going to wear it in honor of him. It means a lot to me.”

Russell was an 11-time champion with the Celtics, a five-time MVP, 12-time All-Star and became the first Black head coach in league history, winning his last two rings as a player-coach for Boston. Known as the sport’s ultimate winner, Russell was honored in 2009 when the NBA Finals MVP trophy was named after him. 

James is a four-time recipient of the award, with Russell personally handing him the trophy after the Cleveland Cavaliers’ memorable Game 7 victory over the Golden State Warriors in 2016.

James first wore No. 6 in international competition for Team USA and later wore it for the four seasons he played for the Miami Heat, as the organization had already retired No. 23 in honor of Michael Jordan. He went back to No. 23 from 2014 to ’21 — the entirety of his second stint in Cleveland, plus his first three seasons in L.A. — and then wore No. 6 again his past two seasons for the Lakers.

All told, James has worn No. 23 in 14 of his 20 NBA seasons, and that will become 15 out of 21 when he suits up for the Lakers in the fall.