OPINION: LeBron's Quest To Retire Jordan's #23 Is Misguided

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“I just think 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.

“He can’t get the logo [Hall of Famer Jerry West's silhouette adorns the NBA's 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.” — LeBron James

LeBron, I appreciate your initiative. You’re willing to change your jersey number to 6 because you think no one else should ever again wear the number 23 out respect for arguably the greatest player to ever lace up a pair of sneaks. I appreciate the homage you’re trying to pay to Michael Jordan’s career. I might like it a little more if you were vocal about things that actually matter, but basketball is your business and in business, no one wants to hurt their interests. In fact, that is perhaps the greatest lesson any pro hooper could have learned from MJ. Remember, Republicans buy sneakers too.

But this idea doesn’t hold up. To retire a jersey number for a whole association, the player in question has to be of either inarguable talent or inarguable greater importance. Believe it or not, Jordan doesn’t qualify under either.

While I personally think he’s the greatest to play the game, I’m aware that there are arguments that can be made to the contrary, especially with regard to the era in which he played, the personnel around him, etc.

On the level of greater importance, Michael Jordan isn’t much more than a transcendental representation of a meticulously-marketed and sculpted image. There should, quite honestly, be symposiums on what he accomplished beginning with his initial Nike deal. Again, he greatly benefited from the era in which he played. Shorter Pitts-Wiley had he been a star in the internet age, our perception of who the man really is would be astoundingly different.

Held under the Robinson-Gretsky litmus test, Michael Jordan doesn’t pass muster.

Jackie Robinson’s historical significance–and what he actually had to go through on a daily basis–cannot be understated, either in terms of baseball history or American history at-large. While Jordan’s global reach is staggering in scope, it is also limited. Outside of being a bankable product spokesman juggernaut, what has Michael Jordan done?

Wayne Gretsky’s transcendental talent is questioned by exactly zero people. He is the standard for comparison and I have never in my life heard Gretsky compared to anyone else. He’s called The Great One for crying out loud. Jordan? He’s in rare air, but not that rare.

And since we’re on the subject of changing from 23 to 6, LeBron, allow me to remind you of a stellar point via ESPN commenter rmolloy1:

Why go to number 6?… A five-time winner of the NBA Most Valuable Player Award and a twelve-time All-Star, [Bill] Russell was the centerpiece of the Celtics dynasty that won eleven NBA Championships during Russell’s thirteen-year career. Russell holds the record for the most championships won by an athlete in a North American sports league. Before his professional career, Russell led the University of San Francisco to two consecutive National Collegiate Athletic Association championships (1955, 1956). He also won a gold medal at the 1956 Summer Olympics as captain of the U.S. national basketball team. Oh yeah, he was also the first African American Coach.

So…yeah.

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Jonathan Pitts-Wiley is a news aggregator and contributor for The Root. You can check out his personal blog at pittsindeed.wordpress.com and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/pittswiley. Jonathan currently resides in New York City.

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