The sixth man in basketball is a player who is not a starter but comes off the bench much more often than other reserves, often being the first player to be substituted in. The sixth man often plays minutes equal to or exceeding some of the starters and posts similar statistics. He is often a player who can play multiple positions, hence his utility in substituting often. For example, Kevin McHale, a famous sixth man who played for the Boston Celtics in the 1980s, variably played center and power forward. The presence of a good sixth man is often a sign of excellence. It usually means that a team has excellent depth, as the sixth man is usually more than talented enough to start for most teams.
Legendary Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach is often credited throughout basketball with creating the sixth man. He first used the role for guard Frank Ramsey, who played behind the Hall-of-Fame duo of Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman during the early part of the Celtics' dynasty years. Though Ramsey was one of the Celtics' best players, he felt more comfortable coming off the bench and Auerbach wanted his best players fresh and in the lineup at the end of close games. The most famous sixth man, however, was teammate John Havlicek, who revolutionized the role during his 16-year career.