For the first time ever, the NBA bestowed upon a player the honor of having their jersey number retired league-wide. Shams Charania reported that Bill Russell's No. 6 will be retired in his honor and that all the players will wear a patch on the right shoulder of their jerseys in 2022-23.
Russell becomes just the third player in the major American sports leagues to have his number retired, after Jackie Robinson in the MLB and Wayne Gretzky in the NHL. As the news spread, basketball historian Josh Ellis shared the post on Reddit and decided to go back in time to see who was the first player in the league to have their jersey retired, and that happens to be Billy Gabor. Gabor played for the Syracuse Nationals from 1949 to 1955, and during that time, he made 1 All-Star appearance. While his resume doesn't seem to warrant the honor of having a jersey retired, the fan shared what led to it happening and also mentioned that the jersey is actually no longer retired.
"He wasn't by any means unworthy of the honor though. Billy Gabor was a hometown hero who had been a Syracuse University legend and a WWII bombardier before his pro career began. He was a crucial part of the 1949-50 team that made the Finals. He was beloved by fans for his hustle, passion, and fiery reputation for playing until (and often past) the whistle. He was both a microwave scorer and one of the best situational man-to-man defenders of star guards, earning a reputation as a Cousy stopper toward the end of his prime."
"So why isn't it retired anymore? Well, Syracuse relocated and became the Philadelphia 76ers. The franchise only held onto select parts of its history, not including the retirement of Gabor's jersey. And that's how the first jersey ever retired in league history has been worn by 24 players since then and is currently occupied by third-string combo guard Isaiah Joe."
This is such a fascinating story that hardly anyone has any idea about nowadays, as Gabor's name has been lost in history, just like that of so many others from that time. It is unfortunate that the jersey is no longer retired, with the Sixers opting not to go that route when the team relocated to Philadelphia in 1963.
The Sixers have been selective with what parts they have brought forward from the Nationals, as the fan pointed out, and it was only in 2016 that Gabor's teammate Dolph Schayes, who was a 12-time All-Star with the Nationals, got his jersey retired by the team.