Friday, November 13, 2009

The "King" to abdicate 23

The NBA's "King" is not abdicating his thrown but his jersey number. Last night Cleveland's LeBron James announced he will switch his uniform number - from 23 to 6 - next season as a tribute to NBA legend Michael Jordan, who according to LeBron was a pioneer for guys like him.
"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."
- LeBron James on ESPN.com
There are so many things wrong with this, I'm not quite sure where to start. First, let me get one idea out of the way. A number change could very easily go hand-in-hand with a uniform change, so when LeBron does debut his #6 jersey in 2010, let's see what city is across the front of the jersey. Just keep that in mind as we go through the rest of this.

But James' abortion of an idea isn't stupid because he wants to honor MJ. In fact, I like that. I appreciate that LeBron feels that Jordan was such a great player that no one should ever wear #23 again. But that's not for him to decide.

The only other players in this context who have their numbers retired across an entire sport in North America are Wayne Gretzky's #99 in the NHL and Jackie Robinson's #42 in Major League Baseball. Gretzky is more along the lines of an MJ-type, a truly great player who helped put butts in seats all across the league whenever his team came to town. But Jackie Robinson wasn't just a great player. He represents so much more, and for him to have his number retired across an entire sport also represents what he stood for and the significance of his debut in the Major Leagues as the first black man. Breaking the color barrier is something to honor across an entire sport.

Taking off from the free throw line? Not as much.

James was quoted telling ESPN.com that "what Michael Jordan has done for the game has to be recognized some way soon," James said. "There would be no LeBron James, no Kobe Bryant, no Dwyane Wade if there wasn't Michael Jordan first."

So there would be no modern day superstars without MJ? Maybe there would be no one for them to live in the shadow of, but Jordan didn't do anything to help them break in. Jordan went to college where Bryant and James did not, so it's not like he set the tone of making the jump to the NBA at age 18. There were others who did it before LeBron. KG anyone?

LeBron was also quoted calling Jordan a "pioneer" of the game. A pioneer? Maybe for winning titles and selling merchandise. But Jordan didn't boost the NBA the way the rivalry of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird did, catapulting the sports popularity into a prime-time spotlight in the 1980s. Jordan helped, but he wasn't the reason. MJ was a great player. Certainly better and more decorated than LeBron will most likely ever become. But it's not LBJ's responsibility to lead the charge to honor Air Jordan.

No other player in the NBA should feel pressured by the league's golden child to switch their jersey number, and no future NBA players should feel they cannot don #23 because of LeBron's gesture. This isn't George Washington stepping down as a two-term president to set the standard. This is a guy who more than likely would really like to see his #6 uni leapfrog Kobe's #24.

LeBron also went on to say "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." Are you kidding me? Just how self-righteous are you? If you're not going to, then no one should?! You know, maybe no one else should ever hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy either based on that logic.

The 12 other players in the NBA currently wearing #23 are most likely doing it because they too grew up watching Jordan, idolizing him, and while they may look themselves in the mirror and think they cannot in good conscious wear #23 out of respect for how good Jordan was, that should be their decision to make unless mandated by the NBA.

LeBron is so concerned with honoring Jordan because Jordan did so much, but there are certainly other NBA figures that have accomplished just as much. It's ironic that James will wear #6, the old number of 11-time NBA Champion Bill Russell. Is it not a slap to the face of Russell or even Julius Erving to say that it's not okay to wear #23 but #6 is fine because LeBron is only 25 and wasn't born when Russell was dominating in Boston?

Michael Jordan was a great player. Maybe he was the best player the NBA has ever seen. But for LeBron to feel that he needs to be the one to initiate a movement is irresponsible and selfish. If you want to switch numbers - or teams - then go ahead and do it. Maybe it's to get your jersey back at the top of the pile in sales. Maybe it's because you feel you need some sort of a fresh start (such as when Kobe switched from 8 to 24), but don't create a crusade out of it because you are too young and irresponsible to remember what true pioneers of sports really accomplished.

30 comments:

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"it should be 'their' decision," not "it should be 'there' decision"

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