Last week Lebron James suggested that he was going to give up the number 23 in honor of Michael Jordan and strongly hinted that everyone else in the League should do the same. Kobe Bryant gave his own opinion this Friday saying that it’s “a great idea” and that Jordan was “different than any other player who has played the game.”
For his part, Jordan downplayed the notion saying, “Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Bill Russell, all those guys should have their jerseys retired, too. I understand his gesture, but I am in the same group as those guys, so I wouldn’t want to see my jersey retired unless you retire those guys. It is a compliment. I totally understand that. I appreciate LeBron for doing that and it is very thoughtful.”
While it may have been a “thoughtful” gesture on Lebron’s part, I think King James didn’t really think through his idea. Like Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said, this sort of thing is a “slippery slope.” Some think James is flat out wrong in suggesting such a thing, others think he’s spot on. The NBA, in general is divided over the issue.
It has to be noted that the fact that Lebron will be switching his number to 6, a number famously worn by Bill Russell and Dr. J (you know, the man with 11 rings and the man who heavily influenced Jordan and changed the game in his own right) just goes to show that the idea was not marinated on long enough.
Did Jordan make the NBA a global sport? Sure he did. Jordan’s probably the reason many of you out there are reading this blog. But that doesn’t make him a game changer.
The Association has seen a great number of transcendent stars. Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird, George Mikan, Jerry West, Pete Maravich…and because the game continues to evolve, the list will continue to grow. If we’re going to be fair, numbers will have to be three digits going forward.
There will be those who point to Jackie Robinson. Robinson’s number 42 is retired throughout Major League baseball because he was the first man of color to play professionally. But in all honesty, there really isn’t any comparison between Michael Jeffrey Jordan and Jack Roosevelt Robinson. While Jordan took the Association international, he didn’t break color lines.
The man who did that in the NBA was Wat Misaka, who remains unknown to the wide-ranging American public. Misaka is a Japanese American who played in three games with the New York Knicks back in 1947-48. The 5-7 guard with the slick hair and the short shorts who had played a major role at the University of Utah, broke the color barrier only a few years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were decimated by atomic bombs and Japanese Americans freed from America’s concentration camps.
Bet Lebron didn’t know that. And I’m pretty sure he won’t be campaigning to retire number 15.
Maybe Carmelo Anthony can start that train…
-by JORDAN IKEDA
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For those interested in learning more about Wat Misaka, there is a documentary called “Transcending” that you should definitely check out. Click here for more info.