James, who has worn the No. 23 jersey in 14 of his 20 seasons in the NBA, has sported the No. 6 jersey the previous two seasons with the Lakers.
“It’s LeBron’s decision,” Klutch Sports Group CEO Rich Paul and James’ longtime friend told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. “He chose to out of respect for Bill Russell.”
Russell, an 11-time champion with the Boston Celtics and five-time NBA MVP, died on July 31, 2022, at the age of 88. After his death, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association announced that the Hall of Famer’s No. 6 would be retired league-wide, noting that players who sported the number at the time, would be allowed to continue to wear it.
CNN has reached out to Klutch Sports Group but did not immediately hear back.
In addition to his sporting achievements, which included having the NBA Finals MVP trophy named after him, Russell was one of sport’s leading civil rights activists and marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. when he gave his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. He also supported iconic boxer Muhammad Ali in his opposition to being drafted into military service.
Russell was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor, by then-President Barack Obama in February 2011.
“For us to lose such an icon, it was heartbreaking for all of us,” James told ESPN before the start of last season. “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 us Black people, you know, being able to speak about issues that are not comfortable, and he did it in a time where it wasn’t comfortable for the majority.
“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,” he continued.
The NBA’s all-time scoring leader, James originally wore No. 23 in his first seven seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the No. 6 while competing for Team USA in international competitions.
After joining the Miami Heat in 2010, James switched to No. 6 during his four seasons with the franchise due to the organization having retired the No. 23 in honor of Michael Jordan. Following his return to the Cavaliers in 2014, the 38-year-old opted to revert back to No. 23, which he wore until after his third season with the Lakers in 2021.
The four-time NBA champion’s jersey was the league’s highest-seller on NBAStore.com in the second half of last season.