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Meet Billy “The Bullet” Gabor — the first player to have his jersey retired in the NBA

Billy Gabor's impact and contributions went beyond the basketball court. In 1954, he became the first player to have his jersey retired in the NBA.
Billy “The Bullet” Gabor

Billy “The Bullet” Gabor

Teams retire a player’s jersey for various reasons, but they all boil down to the historical impact the player had on the team and the city. Billy Gabor made history when he became the first player to have his jersey retired by the NBA in 1954. But there’s a twist in his story in how it all happened.

Billy Gabor was not your average player

Billy Gabor had his jersey retired by the Syracuse Nationals during the halftime of their game against the Philadelphia Warriors in 1955. Syracuse went on to win 101-107, but the focus was on Billy The Bullet and why his jersey was retired. The shooting guard didn’t even play a minute on the floor.

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He won a championship but failed to make it to any All-NBA teams. Gabor played in just one All-Star game, but his impact exceeded the numbers. It’s what he did outside the basketball court that mattered more. Billy joined the United States Army Air Corps in 1943 and was a former World War II bombardier.

What he lacked in consistent offensive production, Gabor made it up on the defensive end. Billy sacrificed his body, which resulted in several injuries, including fractured cheeks, a broken nose, a broken elbow, a broken finger, a dislocated shoulder, a sprained ankle, and a twisted knee - all of which made him a fan favorite during his time.

Unfortunately, a life-threatening illness prematurely ended his NBA career. He may be the first player to have his jersey retired, but it would soon be un-retired after the franchise changed its name.

Why is Billy Gabor’s jersey unretired?

Syracuse Nationals became the Philadelphia 76ers, and Billy The Bullet Gabor’s jersey was unretired in the process. Many players have donned the number 7 since, but Gabor’s legacy isn’t lost to those who know his impact on the game.

Billy lived until he was 97. Because of his contributions to Syracuse University, he was invited back in 2009 to have his jersey retired by the school. Nowadays, a lot of NBA teams have retired several jerseys. Bill Russell’s number 6 would soon be retired by all teams next season as a tribute to his greatness.

Meanwhile, the Binghamton, New York native proved that you don’t need eye-popping numbers to be recognized. He was willing to lay it out on the floor every night, which was enough to give him his due. Billy Gabor’s efforts and hard work earned him a place in history books as the first ever to have his jersey retired in the NBA. 

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