Shortly after Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell died at the age of 88 in the summer of 2022, the NBA decided to retire his No. 6 jersey across the league for all 30 teams.
Former Miami Heat big man Udonis Haslem was vehemently opposed to the move, and he even responded with a very derogatory statement toward Russell. Haslem clarified that he said “f— Bill Russell” while on “The OGs Show” as something that had more to do with the Heat-Celtics rivalry than Russell himself.
UD wasn’t a fan of the Heat retiring Bill Russell’s jersey 😂
— The OGs Show (@theOGsShow) December 27, 2023
“Tell me when you gon’ see a Miami Heat jersey hanging in Boston,” said Haslem. “… I had to repent that. I love Bill. No disrespect to Bill. I love him. … Will you ever see a Miami Heat jersey hanging in Boston rafters? … Why the f— he got to hang in here? The s— that come out them people mouth to us when we playing there? I might not take back what I said now that I think about it, the s— that they say to us?”
Russell was one of the true giants and pioneers of pro basketball. He led the Celtics to 11 championships in his 13 seasons in the league, and while he wasn’t a dominant offensive player, he is still considered arguably the greatest rebounder and defender in the history of the sport.
The center was also a true champion off the court. He was an outspoken advocate of racial and social justice, and in 2011, former president Barack Obama gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Of course, in recent years, the Heat have had a heated rivalry with the Celtics. In 2011, LeBron James led Miami past a Celtics team led by Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo in the second round of the playoffs. In 2012, Miami overcame a 3-2 series deficit against Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals and returned to the NBA Finals, where James finally got his first ring against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
In three of the last four seasons, the two teams have met in the Eastern Conference Finals. Last spring, the Heat got out to a 3-0 series lead, only to lose it and have to travel to Boston for a decisive Game 7. Somehow, they prevailed in an inspiring 103-84 victory to reach the championship series.
This rivalry has been further fueled by the presence of Heat team president Pat Riley, whose Los Angeles Lakers were fierce rivals of the Celtics back in the mid-1980s.
While Haslem may not want Russell’s number hanging in the rafters of Kaseya Center, this may be a case where Russell’s impact on and off the court transcends the organization’s perceived antipathy toward the Celtics.