LeBron James: No. 23 Belongs to Jordan

Watching the Cavaliers vs. Heat game last night, the camera zoomed into the legendary Michael Jordan, who was in attendance and sitting next to Miami team president, Pat Riley. Even MJ couldn’t resist watching two of the games top players going at it – LeBron James and Dwayne Wade.

The game was intense and the Cavaliers pulled out the victory, but that wasn’t the most interesting part of the night. Heck, even DWade’s monstrous, disgusting, sick, all of the above dunk on Andy Verajao (OUCH) wasn’t it either. It was LeBron’s comments at the end of the game that caught my attention (video link):

I respect LBJ for stepping up and showing Michael Jordan the respect that he rightfully deserves. I also respect the maturity that it takes to consider giving up the number you’ve worn since your sophomore year in high school. But I question whether he’s giving up the number 23 for the right reasons. Why?

  • Because though we relate the number 23 to MJ, I can relate it to LBJ as well
  • Because the number 23 gives kids/players inspiration to do something amazing, to achieve greatness every time they wear that number
  • Because one number’s inspiration doesn’t have to be limited to one person

Jerry Rice wore the number 80. I will always equate the greatest receiver of all time to that number. I think of him when I see other WRs wearing that number. But I also know that those players willing to suit up with 80 on their back are going onto the field knowing that they represent a number that achieved greatness – and will aspire to do the same.

As much as Michael Jordan achieved wearing the number 23, I think LeBron James (without getting into the comparison debate) in his own respect, can do the same.

But enough of what I think – do you think LeBron James is doing the right thing? Do you think he has to do it in respect of Jordan? Let me know what’s on your mind.



  1. Bill Free (Reply) on Friday 13, 2009

    Interesting question, Sonny. It’s fairly common to have a team retire a number, but to have an entire league retire it is another matter. LBJ is right: Jordan was not just a great player, he was a transformational player both on and off the court (full disclosure: huge MJ fan). But the game moves on. In the absence of context, numbers lose their meaning. Since Jordan was courtside that night, it would have been interesting to get his perspective.

    My short answer to LeBron: keep the number. When Jordan came back wearing No. 45 it never felt right.

    • Sonny Gill (Reply) on Friday 13, 2009

      Bill – you make an interesting point about numbers losing meaning after time. I see what you’re saying but of course, certain ones will never be forgotten. Even so, retiring a number for an entire league is a bit much, IMO, and also slightly disrespects some of the other greats of the league (Kareem, Wilt, Oscar).

      Would be cool to hear MJ’s side, though I’m sure he wouldn’t tell LBJ not to do it.

  2. Kasey Skala (Reply) on Friday 13, 2009

    I agree with you that #23 shouldn’t have a league-wide retirement. Having Chicago retire the number does enough for MJ’s legacy. Yes, he was & is the G.O.A.T. and I don’t think anyone will claim that stake. Yes, he did the game a lot of good and was able to draw fans across the globe in, however, his mark on the NBA was not revolutionary.

    Jackie Robinson deserves his # to have a league-wide ban. What Jackie did for not only baseball, but for all african-americans is revolutionary.

    Keep # retirements to teams, not an entire league. The only other person who should have his number retired would be Jesse Owens – and of course, there is no number in his sport.

    • Sonny Gill (Reply) on Friday 13, 2009

      What’s also interesting is that Pat Riley actually ‘retired’ the number 23 from the Miami Heat in honor of MJ and so no one could use it. I don’t think Riley should’ve done that in the first place and is what got the media and LeBron in a stir about this whole issue.