The honorable Bill Russell. Argue among yourselves about which player is the best in the history of the NBA, there is no name more revered in the 76-year history of the league than his.
He was drafted into the league eight years into the NBL and BAA merger that resulted in the NBA, and six years after the new league was integrated. In a league that is now predominantly Black, he was its first star of that color. Playing during the explosive time in American history when legal segregation was ending, he was a man of unimpeachable dignity, at a time when this country’s passion was stripping off of Black people’s backs.
For everything that he went through, he stood up for his and his people’s rights, while at the same time leading the most dominant run in the history of professional sports of which there is video footage. William Felton Russell, a true American hero.
Outside of Jackie Robinson, there is no other American professional athlete worthy of having their jersey retired league-wide. They are the only two players with the combination of champion of cause, and champion of their sport. This decision was a layup for Adam Silver following Russell’s death on the final day of July, but his attempt ended up rolling around the rim and falling to the floor
Of course, there are players in the league still wearing No. 6, and just like MLB did with Robinson’s No. 42 in 1997, current players are allowed to continue to wear it. Alex Caruso decided that he didn’t want his No. 6 anymore. If the league deemed the number important enough to retire, then he was going to choose a new one. Well, Caruso found out that for this season, economics dictates that he must keep the jersey.
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“I did give some thought to changing it this year,” Caruso said at Chicago Bulls Media Day. “And the NBA told me I couldn’t because I was in the top 75 of jersey sales.”
That’s right. Chicago fan-favorite Caruso is not allowed to make the smallest of sacrifices to pay respect to an icon because of money.
This progressive league has shown its Scrooge McDuck side frequently in recent years. The Daryl Morey Hong Kong tweet, the mashing of the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons into the league calendar as quickly as possible after it was forced to take a brief hiatus after Rudy Gobert’s positive test made one of the league’s featured employees Patient 0 for America shutting down, and this Robert Sarver situation in which Silver admitted at a press conference that it is literally not possible to hold owners to the same standard as the rest of the NBA.
In those cases, we’re talking about some true seismic decisions. While they all lack a proper valuation of the well-being of human beings, we live in a capitalist society. Sometimes the choice is to keep your morals or keep your house. What did Garry Shider say in Cosmic Slop? “Father, father, it’s for the kids. Any and everything I did. Please, please don’t judge me too strong.” The NBA was in a far less dire state than a mother prostituting to care for her kids, but those recent unpopular decisions and statements were made to keep the business going.
But not letting Alex Caruso take an extra step in abiding by a rule the league made to honor a special person, that’s ugly greed. That’s pulling up to the grocery store in a Benz and walking around eating a doughnut so you don’t have to pay for it kind of greed. Not every dollar needs to be snatched like the league has one minute in the money machine.
I have no clue how many people are going to read this story, but one reader is an unnecessary problem for the league. This could’ve instead been a 300-word post about Caruso being a decent person for giving up that number when he didn’t have to. Especially, when he had to give up his normal number — 4 — because Jerry Sloan wore it so the Bulls retired it —a person so honorable that John Amaechi said Sloan once called him a “stupid fucking c**t.”
But this is what the NBA chose. They deemed it more necessary to hoard whatever money Caruso generates wearing that No. 6 for the Bulls, than allowing him to honor this person who the league holds in higher regard than any player in league history.
Of course, money is vital to the NBA, or any business entity’s survival, However, there are times when it’s worth it to eat the loss. This was one of those times.