Back in the good ol' days, NBA teams nodded respectfully to their legends by retiring their number, so that, for instance, a stiff like Todd MacCulloch could never sully memories of Dr. J by flopping around in a Philadelphia No. 6 jersey. But, as is always the case, some teams can't help themselves. (See: Joe Johnson, Darko Milicic and Vinny Del Negro.)
Before long, the Heat had retired No. 23 for Michael Jordan (who never played for Miami) and the Kings retired No. 6 for the "Sixth Man." Clearly, sticking a jersey in the rafters doesn't mean what it used to. So for those really special retirees something more is needed, something more expensive and permanent. And so we have the bronze statue.
Michael Jordan has one outside the United Center, and the Lakers will unveil a Jerry West statue outside Staples Center during All-Star Weekend in February. But if any NBA legend deserves a slice of cast permanence for service to the league, team and humankind, it'd be Bill Russell.
That's Paul Flannery's argument in a new Boston Magazine piece. And it's a great idea only made complicated by Russell's own discomfort with both his own fame and the city of Boston itself. Flannery tells of what it took to get Russell to show up for the retirement of his jersey:
[The] Celtics first tried to retire Russell’s Number 6, he kept saying no — until the team agreed in 1972 to conduct the ceremony in an empty Garden, with only his former teammates in attendance. (He also declined to attend his own Hall of Fame induction three years later. Pomp and circumstance is evidently not his thing.)
It was another 27 years before Russell agreed to a proper jersey retirement with fans and cameras and everything. As such, it's easy to understand Russ might be hesistant to OK being cast in bronze outside the Garden. But who says they need his permission? I'm pretty sure the Heat didn't run their retirement of No. 23 by MJ, after all.