LeBron James may persuade NBA players to give up their No. 23s, but a leaguewide retirement of Michael Jordan’s number seems unlikely.
James said on Thursday that he is considering switching his number next season and wants other players to do the same in honor of Jordan, the Hall of Famer who is often regarded as the league’s best player ever.
Major League Baseball retired Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 and the NHL did the same with Wayne Gretzky’s No. 99, but that hasn’t been done in the NBA. Spokesman Tim Frank said on Saturday that “retiring a player’s number is a decision that has been made by the teams” and not the league.
The NBA has no policy preventing every player wearing No. 23 from petitioning for a change, but players generally have to wear a number five years before they can switch.
There are 13 No. 23s in the NBA, though James is the only superstar. Oklahoma City rookie Byron Mullens ended up with the number after finding his preferred No. 32 was retired by the organization for Seattle SuperSonics great Fred Brown, and would be open to a switch.
“I don’t have a problem,” Mullens said. “I’m a rookie so I don’t have no say-so. It’s Jordan, man. His number should be retired from the NBA. If it is, then congratulations and good for him. If it’s not, then I guess I’ll stick to it. I was kidding around with my teammates, though. I told them, ‘Jordan’s going to have to pay me out.”‘
Knicks rookie Toney Douglas wasn’t so sure, saying he’s worn No. 23 since he was 3 years old because Jordan was his favorite player.
“It really doesn’t matter to me what he said about the number thing. I don’t really have no comment about it to tell you the truth,” he told reporters Friday. “I’ve had that number my whole life, since I was 3 years old. Of course I’m going to want that every time out.”
Any players wanting to switch would have to officially notify the league by early March. James, who said he would probably change to No. 6, his number with the U.S. Olympic team, would not need permission to change if he leaves Cleveland as a free agent.
James first made his comments during an on-air interview on TNT following the Cavaliers’ victory over the Heat. Jordan was at the game in Miami – where Heat president Pat Riley retired the number in 2003 even though he never played for the franchise. No Miami player has worn No. 23 since Cedric Ceballos in 2001.
“Pat Riley made it known years back, when he said that every team should retire Michael Jordan’s number,” said Detroit’s Richard Hamilton, who played with Jordan in Washington. “He’s the most dominant player that every played the game, the most exciting player that ever played the game. Nobody changed the game like he did.”
Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who coached Jordan in Chicago, endorsed the idea, though noted it might be “a little step on the toes for a guy like Magic (Johnson) or (Larry) Bird.”
That seems to be one reason for disagreement with James’ plan. Charles Barkley said after James’ interview that Johnson and Bird “had a greater impact on the game than Michael Jordan.”
But James, who said Saturday he hadn’t yet received any direct feedback, stressed that Jordan’s contributions were significant.
“Jordan did a lot for the game, more than just on the court,” James said. “He was bigger than the game, but always stayed inside the game, if you understand what I mean. He set it up for a lot of guys like myself. His influence to the game is way more than what he did on the court.”
Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy believes there are too many other deserving players besides Jordan to start retiring numbers.
“Pretty soon our players will be wearing 373. All the two-digit numbers will be taken,” he said.
The other players wearing No. 23 are: Kevin Martin (Sacramento), Stephen Graham (Charlotte), C.J. Watson (Golden State), Marcus Camby (Los Angeles Clippers), Jodie Meeks (Milwaukee), Devin Brown (New Orleans), Lou Williams (Philadelphia), Jason Richardson (Phoenix), Martell Webster (Portland) and Wesley Matthews (Utah).