LeBron James says he is going to stop wearing No. 23, and he wants the rest of the league to stop wearing it as well.
Apparently, it's not enough that Michael Jordan has been inducted into the Hall of Fame and has inspired a generation of kids to shave their heads and wear baggy shorts just to "be like Mike"; it's not enough that he has truckloads of money and six MVP trophies and every year somebody is prematurely tabbed as the "next Michael Jordan," and he is a world-wide brand, and his statue stands outside the Chicago arena.
He deserves more recognition than that, according to James.
"I just think what Michael Jordan has done for the game has to be recognized in some way — soon," James explained. "There would be no LeBron James, no Kobe Bryant, no Dwyane Wade, you name all the best players in the league right now and the last 10 years, there would be none of us without Michael Jordan."
Actually, there would be no Michael Jordan if there were no Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, so let's stop the wearing of Nos. 33 and 32 as well. If those two hadn't come along, the NBA would be, well, the NHL or, worse, the MLS.
And there would have been no Bird and Magic if not for Cousy (14), Mikan (99), Bradley (24), Bing (21), Baylor (22), Abdul-Jabbar (33), Robertson (1) and many more.
Where do you draw the line for retiring numbers?
James says he will switch to No. 6, which was worn by his other favorite player, Julius Erving. But why not retire No. 6? Dr. J did much for the NBA and the ABA as a player and an ambassador. He helped make the dunk popular. He's had two different numbers retired — 6 with the Sixers, 32 with the Nets.
The Celtics' Bill Russell wore No. 6, too. All he did was win 11 world championships as a player and a player/coach — almost twice as many as Jordan.
While we're at it, the league should retire No. 13 for Wilt Chamberlain, who changed the game and set records that will never be broken. He's had his jersey retired by three different teams. Nobody should forget the clash-of-the-titans meetings between Russell and Chamberlain and what it meant to the game.
Jerry West's No. 44 has got to go to mothballs, too — they put his likeness on the NBA logo. That must be worth something.
Only two players in the major professional sports have had a league-wide retirement of their numbers: Wayne Gretzky's 99 by the NHL and Jackie Robinson's 42 by Major League Baseball.
But drawing the line at those two — or anywhere, for that matter — seems arbitrary. Kenny Washington, Robinson's UCLA teammate, broke the color barrier in the NFL. Why not retire his No. 13?
Babe Ruth's No. 3 deserves to be retired more than Robinson's. Such a move would not be as politically correct as the retirement of Robinson's jersey, but who did more for baseball than the Bambino? His world-wide fame transcended sports and inspired legends and movies. What other athlete is still remembered so well some 75 years after he retired?
If the NFL decides to go down this road, it should retire Jim Brown's 32. He was only the greatest football player, ever, period, end of story.
And what about Johnny Unitas' No. 19? He and his Colts did for the NFL what Bird and Magic did for the NBA — put the game on TV and in the national consciousness.
NFL teams have already retired 121 numbers. NBA teams have retired 140 numbers — every number from 1 to 50 has been retired by at least one team, except 26, 27, 28, 37, 38 and 39. Major League Baseball teams have retired the numbers of 120 players. Every number from one through 50 has been retired except 13, 28, 38 and 46.
There's an epidemic of retired numbers. The Celtics have retired a whopping 21 numbers — more than one for each of their 17 world championships. If you're a Celtic, you can't wear the following numbers: 00, 1, 2 3, 6, 10, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 31, 32, 33, 35. The Utah Jazz have retired eight numbers since coming to Utah in 1979 — and they haven't even won a championship.
At this rate, they could run out of decent numbers for players to wear. Someday players might wear telephone numbers on their backs — "And playing shortstop, No. 515-283-2222, Harvey Johnson." — or fractions — 101/2 or 10.5 — serial numbers — 0A314C — or multiple digits — No. 4,372.
Some players struggle to find a number anymore. There are 13 players who wear No. 23 in the NBA this season. Oklahoma City rookie Byron Mullens switched to No. 23 because his college number, 32, had already been retired (for Fred Brown, who played for the Seattle Supersonics before they moved to Oklahoma, where people have barely heard of Fred Brown). Under James' plan, he would have to change again.
Practical considerations aside, Jordan doesn't deserve to have his jersey retired anymore than many other players who came before him. Anyway, players would bring more honor to him by wearing his jersey than by putting it away forever.
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