This is a joke.
The heir to the NBA throne, LeBron James recently filed to change his jersey number from 23 to 6 for the 2010-11 season. He did so because he feels the NBA should retire the number of arguably the greatest player to ever step on a basketball court, Michael Jordan, league-wide.
This has to be a joke.
There is also speculation that James may be changing his number in an effort to catch up to the jersey sales of his biggest rival, one Kobe Bryant. Since Bryant changed his digits from 8 to 24, he has had the top-selling jersey for the past two seasons. Since “King James” most certainly has an ego, regardless of how mild-mannered and unselfish he may seem to be, he had to know from “Black Mamba’s” example that this was the way to get what he wants and take the top spot.
Please tell me this is a joke.
Even if you give LeBron the benefit of the doubt, and you think his tribute to Jordan is real, this is still a major problem. Yes, Jordan did many things never seen before in the NBA. He was the first to have his own basketball sneaker. He developed his name into a brand name, now one of the hottest sportswear companies on the planet. He also helped usher in the slam dunk, not to mention he has six championship rings.
Put all those things together, and it still doesn’t even come close to the accomplishments made by one Jackie Robinson.
Yes, this is most certainly a joke.
Robinson, who had his jersey number 42 retired throughout Major League Baseball in 1997, achieved something of a magnitude that probably will never be achieved again. The Brooklyn Dodger great broke down barriers for an entire race, and integrated African-Americans into America’s pastime during a time in which these people were ridiculed, harassed, and threatened with death.
This type of danger would easily scare anyone away, but not Robinson. He took on the challenge, and even he may not have truly realized at the time how enormous of an impact he made not only on the sport of baseball, but also society as a whole. Had it not been for Robinson, who knows if African-Americans would be accepted on a baseball field and in a community, if at all.
The number 42 is no longer just a number. Anytime you see that number on a jersey, even in sports other than baseball, you know what it truly means. It means freedom, it means equality, it means strength, and it means perseverance.
What does the number 23 mean? Most people think of Jordan when that number is present, but it means little more than that of arguably the greatest basketball player of all-time. Furthermore, should a number like this be retired, it should be retired by the team for which he played for. If the Bulls want to immortalize Jordan in Chicago in that manner, then so be it. However, Jordan does not mean the same to everyone everywhere. Quite frankly, I’m a Wilt Chamberlin guy myself. Conversely, Jackie Robinson means much more to everyone, even if the stance is against Robinson’s social accomplishments. It’s as simple as that.
I understand LeBron’s alleged sentiment, and it is certainly appreciated by many true basketball fans. But, it’s merely a good intention combined with a careful stroke of ego. Whether he wants to honor Jordan and whether he wants the best-selling jersey in the NBA is irrelevant. If Michael Jordan’s jersey number gets hung in the rafters in every NBA arena, it will devalue the retirement of number 42, and it will tarnish the advancements in equality Robinson worked so hard to achieve.
In retiring Robinson’s number, we’re talking about true greatness, and not just greatness on the court or the field. To retire MJ’s number across the NBA, at the behest of LeBron James, would simply be one thing: a joke.