On Friday, October 13, 2009, LeBron James announced to the world that next year he will change his number from 23 to 6 to honor Michael Jordan. Whether as a Cavalier or, as many New Yorkers think, the Knicks, LeBron will have a new jersey to sell. Now, I’m not claiming that LeBron and Nike want to get the most money possible by switching jersey number, as Kobe Bryant did in 2006, because he is very likely to switch teams meaning he will have a new jersey. But I am calling shenanigans on what he is doing.
At this start of LeBron’s career, I would not have suggested that he pick 23 to wear. He should have worn a special jersey that he could wear that no one else has. Instead of when little kids see the number 23 they are split between saying, “That’s Mike” and, “That’s LeBron.” He probably should have gone with a number retired by no one, like 26, 28, or 29. That would be the best way to expand his brand.
To start off, I have a major problem with what LeBron has done and will do is when he said, “(Michael Jordan) can’t get the 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.” He went on to say that he would switch to number 6 because it was his Olympic number and the number of his favorite player, Julius Erving. Currently, there are no numbers retired throughout the NBA, although both Chicago and Miami have retired Jordon’s number. In Major League Baseball, Jackie Robinson’s number is the only number retired throughout the league. 42 isn’t retired because Robinson was a transcendent player; it is retired because he broke the racial barrier in MLB. Jordan was the transcendent player, not a barrior breaker. In the NHL, Wayne Gretsky’s 99 is retired and Mario Lemieux’s 66 is “unofficially retired”, and they both fit LeBron’s mold of a transcendent player. But then again, hockey is hockey so lets not put too much impact on that sport.
The problem is not to get players to switch from 23 because after James, Jason Richardson and Kevin Martin are the only notable players to don that number. LeBron James wants the NBA to retire MJ’s 23, but why? He was a transcendent figure for the sport, but what else major did he accomplish? Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier so that modern day superstars Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols, and Barry Bonds could play. Jordan made shoes. Also, what makes Jordan the best candidate to have his number retired? What about the two men with the number LBJ want to wear next year, Julius Erving and Bill Russell. LeBron wants to wear 6 because Dr. J was his favorite player growing up. What about Russell for his unprecedented 11 rings? Larry Bird and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar share the number 33 and certainly made a huge impact on the NBA. So what he is saying is that his he wants to change jersey numbers to honor a player he thinks is great, only to switch to the number of his favorite player. It makes no sense. The point here is that no number should be retired across a league unless it made an impact beyond statistics and milestones.
This has been a major topic of discussion for the last few years and will be until next fall: where will LeBron James sign? The popular choice has been the New York Knicks, but my question is why would he do that? Sure he’d be playing in Madison Square Garden every other night, but who else would be on the team? Do you really want to join a team who’s core is Danilo Galinari, Jordan Hill, Chris Duhon, and maybe David Lee? They have no talent on their team and are banking their franchise’s future on signing two max contract players, which is highly improbable by now. And to top it off, they have no first round pick this year due to their trade for Stephon Marbury. Now to add a twist to the story. What if LeBron said that he was going to be changing his number because he already knew his team he will be signing with has retired 23 or has a player wearing it. The Hawks, Celtics, Bulls, Heat, Nets and Rockets have all retired 23 while only the Suns, Magic, Kings, Celtics, and Sixers have retired. So which other teams could have a real need for a small forward and would be a good fit for him. I have a list of four teams: The Nets, Clippers, Heat, and Trailblazers. You are probably in shock because I just suggested that LeBron James sign with the Clippers, Blazers, and Nets, but calm down and lets go on.
The Nets have a great young nucleus featuring Devin Harris and Brook Lopez along with Yi Jianlian and guards Chris Douglas-Roberts, Courtney Lee, and Terrance Williams plus a likely top-5 draft pick this year. The only thing missing from this team is a scoring small forward. They are very likely to be moving to Brooklyn in a year or two. LeBron has a clause in his deal with Nike that will double if he plays in New York or LA. Brooklyn counts as NYC. And LBJ being good friends with Jay-Z, a co-owner of the Nets, can’t hurt.
The Clippers have long been considered cursed after freak injuries to star players, top-5 pick busts, and losing season after losing season. Like the Nets, the Clips have a great core of young players, though. Baron Davis isn’t so young, but he can still play while Eric Gordon, Blake Griffin, and Chris Kaman have yet to reach their primes (Griffin has yet to play a game). Add on Al Thornton, Marcus Camby, and Sebastian Telfair, and that’s one stacked roster. He would also get that contract bonus from Nike.
The Heat in a great situation for the 2010 season. Only Michael Beasley and Daequan Cook are guaranteed contracts for the season and they have team options on Mario Chalmers and James Jones while Dwayne Wade has a player option he will likely decline. They are the only team in the NBA who can legitimately offer two max contracts, say for a combination of two of the three between Dwayne Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh. Also, what’s not to love about South Beach?
The Blazers are the wild card out of this group of teams. They currently are starting two point guards and Brandon Roy at small forward, showing little faith in Rudy Fernandez and Martell Webster. If they could muster up the cap space to land King James, they would have a great starting five of Andre Miller, Brandon Roy, LeBron, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Greg Oden. The only problem is that it is highly, highly unlikely that LeBron would sign to a market as small as Portland.
I trust that LeBron isn’t as stupid as a high school drop out, so I think he had something planned when he said that he would make the switch from 23. I think that he knew that he had something in mind, and that was going to play in South Beach with Dwayne Wade. It has been well documented, as I did in the Shaq Theory, that D-Wade is a great teammate and won’t hog the ball as much as a player like Kobe will. The Heat fit the bill for a team which has retired the number 23, for Jordan in fact, and won’t necessarily have a player wearing the number 6. Mario Chalmers, who currently is wearing six, isn’t guaranteed a contract with Miami, but if he returns, will likely give up six to James.
On November 24, Dwayne Wade said of his dream teammate, “If I could pick one player in the league today to play with, and most people think I’d say LeBron James, I would pick Dwight Howard.” Was he softening up an opponent he would play the next night or talking from his heart, who knows, but I’m sure that he wouldn’t mind playing with LBJ.
LeBron James is a great guy who likely does honor NBA history, but I just don’t think that he would switch numbers from the one he has worm since at least high school just to honor arguably the greatest player ever. I respect King James, but I think he is up to something