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LeBron James is planning to initiate a petition in honor of Michael Jordan which would prevent any player in the NBA from wearing the number 23. In other words, LeBron wants all 30 NBA teams to retire the number 23. James is one of the many players around the league including the Suns’ Jason Richardson, the Kings’ Kevin Martin, and the Clippers’ Marcus Camby, among others, who wear the number.
“He can’t get the logo [Hall of Famer Jerry West's silhouette adorns the NBA's logo], and if he can’t, something has to be done. I feel like no NBA player should wear 23. I’m starting a petition, and I’ve got to get everyone in the NBA to sign it. Now, if I’m not going to wear No. 23, then nobody else should be able to wear it” said James.
Very rarely do professional sports leagues retire a number. The exceptions being Major League Baseball retiring Jackie Robinson’s number 42, and the National Hockey League retiring Gretzky’s number 99. The National Basketball Association has never retired a number league-wide. James has until March 5 to send a formal request to the league office.
LeBron, a.k.a. “King James,” seems to have appointed himself as the official NBA spokesperson with his recent comments, and in my opinion, they are completely off-base. There is no question Michael Jordan was an unbelievable player, and probably the greatest player of all-time, but retiring his number for these reasons alone would open up a big can of worms. If the league retires number 23, there will be calls to retire Wilt Chamberlain’s number 13, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s or Larry Bird’s 33, Magic Johnson’s 32, etc. Major League Baseball retired Jackie Robinson’s number 42 because along with being a great player, he helped bring an end to racial segregation in modern baseball.
There can also be no denying that LeBron himself is a fantastic basketball player, but it seems a bit ridiculous for LeBron to make such a gesture, having won zero NBA championships. Sorry King James, but simply sharing Jordan’s jersey number doesn’t give you the right to force other players not to wear it.
Last Friday, League spokesman Tim Frank said, “Retiring a player’s number is a decision that has always been made by the teams.”
I think decisions like these should continue to be made by teams on an individual basis. Such a policy makes certain that no player becomes bigger than the game itself, including Jordan and LeBron. How do you think John Stockton and Karl Malone would feel about the Utah Jazz retiring the number 23 in honor of Jordan? Let’s also keep in mind that if it were up to LeBron, franchises that had no affiliation with Jordan would be retiring his number. Doesn’t it seem silly for franchises like the Toronto Raptors and Memphis Grizzlies, who didn’t even exist until 1995, to retire Jordan’s number?
Certainly, LeBron’s gesture is an honorable one, and was delivered with good intentions, but the NBA is perfectly capable of honoring Jordan in a better way, and in a way that makes more sense.
LeBron plans on changing his number from 23 to 6 next season. The reigning MVP wore number 6 with the 2008 U.S. Olympic team, but he has other reasons for choosing this number. “My second-favorite player was Julius Erving, and he wore No. 6,” James said.
I’m sure that readers of Sports of Boston remember another legendary player by the name of Bill Russell, who also donned number 6. King James seems to have forgotten about Mr. Russell, who won five MVP Awards, 11 NBA Championships, and played in 12 all-star games with the Boston Celtics.
I don’t think LeBron is intentionally disrespecting Russell by planning to switch to number 6. However, it doesn’t seem logical for him to retire Michael Jordan’s number, and then switch to a number worn by Julius Erving and Bill Russell. It might be in LeBron’s best interest to keep his mouth shut for a little while, and concentrate on bringing a championship to Cleveland; especially with all of the discussion about his impending 2010 free agency looming.