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Only 3 Legendary Athletes Have Their Numbers Retired League Wide

NBA legend Bill Russell talks with Jimmy Butler at the All-Star Game.

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 18: Bill Russell (L) greets Jimmy Butler at the NBA All-Star Game 2018 at Staples Center on February 18, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

On Thursday, the NBA announced it will be retiring Bill Russell's No. 6 leaguewide.

Not only is Russell the only player in NBA history to be bestowed with this honor, he's one of only three athletes in all of professional sports to have their number retired by the league they played in.

Jackie Robinson (MLB) and Wayne Gretzky (NHL) are the other two.

Robinson was a phenomenally talented player, but his No. 42 was taken out of circulation in baseball because of the impact he had breaking the color barrier.

Gretzky, meanwhile, made no such societal contribution, but is far and away the greatest player in NHL history.

Russell's resume combines a little bit of both men. He is a Civil Rights icon, as well as the owner of an NBA record 11 championship rings as a player.

“Bill Russell’s unparalleled success on the court and pioneering civil rights activism deserve to be honored in a unique and historic way,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. “Permanently retiring his No. 6 across every NBA team ensures that Bill’s transcendent career will always be recognized.”

Russell passed away on July 31 at the age of 88.