Jordan’s No. 23 Just Isn’t the Retiring Type

By virtually all accounts, LeBron James is an admirable adult who will bring honor to whatever team signs him for next season.

Aaron Josefczyk/Reuters

LeBron James sought permission to switch to No. 6 from No. 23 next season.

James had every right to seek permission to switch to No. 6 from No. 23 next season, which he did recently — filing the paperwork thatli lifted hopes  for every Cleveland Cavaliers fan in existence.

By league rules, James needed to take this bureaucratic step only if he stayed with his current team, a prospect that has caused the sun to shine (and palm trees to grow and storefronts to flourish) on the gelid shores of Lake Erie.

One thing I never realized until the other day is that Riley, who runs the Miami Heat,retired  Jordan’s number in 2003 even though Jordan never played for that club. On Friday, Riley went back over his gesture seven years ago.

But some numbers need to keep going rather than be retired. I get a charge out of seeing No. 32.

I think of Jim Brown limping back to the huddle, Sandy Koufax firing strikes, Julius Erving making 360-degree dunks, Magic Johnson leading the fast break. Showtime! Long may No. 32 shimmer.

Then there is No. 6, worn by Bill Russell, blocking shots, leading the Celtics to 11 titles in 13 seasons. Erving also wore No. 6. The league did not shut down that number when they retired, which is why it is available to James, wherever he plays next year. (The league assures me that under the contract, James would not make a penny by changing jersey numbers.)

James is said to be a smart man. I can only assume he may duck the Knicks and the Nets in favor of accomplishing something wonderful in his home region. He still has time to turn the Cavaliers into a version of what Jordan helped create in Chicago. He could do it with No. 23 or No. 6 on his back. Both numbers belong to the sport. There is even more honor in wearing them than retiring them.


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