I’m somewhat fascinated by the concept of jersey retiring, because it’s one of the only career-based honors a player can receive whose standards are almost completely arbitrary. Most Halls of Fame have certain statistical benchmarks that one you pass, you’re an almost automatic entry. The Naismith is no exception — 20,000 points, double-digit All-Star appearances, one or more regular season or Finals MVPs, you’re probably in — while if you fail to reach any of those types of numbers, you probably won’t be considered. So formulaic is the Basketball Hall that Basketball-Reference actually came up with a literal formula to calculate a player’s odds of making it, and for the most part, it seems pretty reliable as a predictor.
There’s no such formula for jersey retiring. The qualifications are completely different from team to team, and a player who sees his jersey laid to rest by one team might not have had a chance with the same numbers for a different franchise. When debating jersey retiring, you have to consider everything from individual statistics to franchise success to franchise history to even fan relations. It’s a tricky decision-making process that sees some obscure players canonized while obvious greats are denied.
Take the case of Bruce Bowen, whose jersey is to be retired by the Spurs, despite the fact that he never played in an All-Star Game or averaged double-digit points for a season. Then take the case of LeBron James, a player who in seven years in Cleveland won two MVPs and a scoring title, played in six All-Star Games, and ushered in the most successful period of basketball (five straight playoff appearances and the franchise’s first trip to the Finals) in Cavaliers history, yet may never see his No. 23 hung to the rafters at Quicken Loans arena. It’s a disparity that could never be explained by objective numbers, but nonetheless makes perfect sense within the historical contexts of both teams. Pretty interesting shit if you ask me.
Anyway, the recent news of Bowen’s number retiring (as well as the far bigger no-brainer of Shaquille O’Neal with the Lakers) had me wondering about what numbers across the NBA were likely to be retired, and I thought it would be a cool exercise to go team-by-team and break down the definites, the probables, and the maybe somedays among those players active and retired witch a chance of being so immortalized. Here’s what I’ve come up with, in alphabetical order by conference. We’ll start with the East and the West will come later today. Let me know if and how much you disagree.
Already Retired: Jason Collier, Lou Hudson, Dominique Wilkins, Bob Pettit
Possibly: Joe Johnson
Maybe Someday: Josh Smith, Al Horford
Analysis: For a franchise that’s been around for over 60 years, the Hawks have been incredibly stingy when it comes to jersey retiring, with such franchise stalwarts as Pete Maravich, Kevin Willis and Lenny Wilkens being passed up for the honors, and only three players earning the distinction (two since the franchise moved to Atlanta) over the years. (Jason Collier’s number was retired mostly in tribute after his incredibly premature death in 2005.)
Joe Johnson has an interesting case to become the fourth legit retired Hawk, as the 10,000 points, six All-Star selections and four consecutive playoff appearances (all numbers likely to grow) he’s given the Hawks since being traded there in 2005 certainly make for a formidable resume. However, the lack of extended playoff success (the Hawks have never made it further than the second round with him as the franchise player) and the ludicrous contract he signed in the 2010 offseason (Joe’ll be making nearly 25 million as a way-past-his-prime 35-year-old) threaten to overshadow his on-court achievements, which may hurt his chances here, especially considering the Hawks’ tough standards.
Two other players worth discussing here are Josh Smith and Al Horford, both drafted by the Hawks, who have experienced a fair amount of success early in their Atlanta careers. Both have chances to go down as ATL immortals, but their resumes probably still need some padding (especially in the postseason department), and in the meantime, both have been heavily subject to trade rumors, with no guarantee they’ll stay in the Peach State long enough to stake their claims.
Already Retired: Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson, Bill Russell, Jo Jo White, Bob Cousy, Tom Heinsohn, Tom Sanders, John Havlicek, Dave Cowens, Don Nelson, Bill Sharman, Ed Macauley, Frank Ramsey, Sam Jones, K.C. Jones, Cedric Maxwlel, Kevin McHale, Larry Bird, Reggie Lewis
Definitely: Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett
Possibly: Ray Allen
Maybe Someday: Rajon Rondo
Long Shot: Kendrick Perkins
Analysis: Though the C’s have five times as many jerseys in their rafters as the Hawks, it doesn’t mean that their standards are that much more lax than Atlanta’s. They’ve just had way more players with the individual and team success that tend to result in jersey retiring. Still, with the recent wave of success the Celtics have experienced in the past five years — two fFnals appearances and a championship—you’d have to think some more numbers are on their way. Paul Pierce is a no-brainer, with a Finals MVP and 15 All-Star-caliber years in Celtic green to his credit, and it seems fairly certain that KG, whose arrival ushered in the latest era of Celtics dominance, will get up there too.
The more intriguing cases are Rondo and Ray-Ray. The latter will undoubtedly retire (or leave via trade and free agency) as one of the most beloved C’s of the last 20 years, serving as a key consistent member of the post-KG Celtics, and even making NBA history in Beantown when he passed Reggie Miller for No. 1 on the all-time three-pointers made list. But with 2011-12 possibly serving as his last season in Boston, he’ll only have played for five years in the green and white, without any of the MVP-type credentials that Garnett had in his first few years as a Celtic. For a franchise with rafters this crowded, that might not quite be enough.
Meanwhile, if Rondo plays the majority of his career in Boston, he should almost certainly have the stats (starting with a championship in his third season) to make a case for his No. 9 being retired, but with Rondo being put on the trading block seemingly every season when another, possibly more reliable elite player is said to be available, it’s hard to predict if he’ll be around long enough to do so. Meanwhile, his off-court moodiness and glaring, oft-frustrating on-court flaws (the free throw shooting, the reluctance on the jumper) temper fan enthusiasm about his play, which means he won’t be as sentimental a choice as a player like Allen.
Finally, one would think that with said crowded rafters, a departed role player like Kendrick Perkins probably wouldn’t merit much consideration. But with the outpouring of fan affection for Perk since his trade was announced in the middle of his eighth season in Boston, you’d have to think that even with his unimpressive stats, his No. 43 has a better shot at retirement than, say, Antoine Walker’s No. 8. Besides, who really wants to wear No. 43, anyway?
Already Retired: N/A
Possibly: Gerald Wallace
Maybe Someday: Eh.
Analysis: Not much to talk about with the Bobcats, a franchise that simply doesn’t have the history yet to make too many cases for jersey retirement. Players like Emeka Okafor and Ray Felton had decent careers in Charlotte, but both are gone now, and you’d have to be really sentimental to say their years in North Carolina deserve such canonization. The only player, past or present, with any kind of legit case, is Gerald Wallace. He was an inaugural Bobcat, the one All-Star in franchise history, and a fan favorite for his seven seasons in Queen City who only left once traded. If Crash became the first player in franchise history to be so honored, it’s hard to imagine anyone would complain.
As for future prospects … well, who knows what kind of career Kemba Walker will have in Charlotte, but it’s hard to imagine D.J. Augustin or Boris Diaw’s jerseys hanging in Time Warner Cable Arena for all time. If they get Anthony Davis in the draft next year, maybe they’ll retire the number of lottery balls they got for their deplorable 2011-2012 season.
Already Retired: Jerry Sloan, Bob Love, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen
Definitely: Derrick Rose
Maybe Someday: Luol Deng, Joakim Noah
Analysis: It might be slightly premature to rank Derrick Rose as a definite in just his fourth year — but honestly, can you imagine a set of circumstances that would result in Rose’s No. 1 not going to the rafters? He’s already an MVP and the driving force behind the most successful Bulls team of the pre- or post-Jordan era, and one who’s beloved by the fans, is locked up long term and has never showed any inclination to play anywhere but Chicago. Even if he lost a hand in a bizarre gardening accident tomorrow, his night would come at the United Center soon enough. Meanwhile, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah will probably go as far as the team goes. Neither will be hugely impressive statistically for their careers, but as Bulls from day one, if they help bring a championship or two to Chi-Town, they’ll have a shot at becoming immortals.
By the way, do you notice a couple names conspicuously absent from that “Already Retired” list? Artis Gilmore averaged 20 and 12 (on 59 percent shooting) in his six seasons in Chicago, while all Dennis Rodman did in his three seasons as a Bull was win three rebounding titles and three championships. If those guys couldn’t make it to the rafters, maybe the road for Deng and Noah won’t be as easy as we might think.
Already Retired: Bingo Smith, Larry Nance, Mark Price, Austin Carr, Nate Thurmond, Brad Daugherty
Definitely: Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Possibly: LeBron James
Maybe Someday: Kyrie Irving
Analysis: It’s a testament to the craziness of the jersey-retiring process that despite having superior credentials in just about every conceivable category (despite spending only half as long in Cleveland), LeBron James isn’t nearly the shoo-in that Zydrunas Ilgauskas is when it comes to getting his number retired by the Cavs. Obviously, this is all about fan perception and loyalty — LeBron bolted to Miami in 2010 in the most high-profile way imaginable, while even after suffering the indignity of being traded to the Wizards mid-season, Big Z resigned with the Cavs after being bought out by Washington. So the now-retired Ilgauskas should be seeing his number retired in just a few years’ time, while LeBron will likely have to wait decades for public sentiment to swing back in his favor in Cleveland. And if you ask anyone at the Q in 2012, they’ll swear that it’ll never happen.
And of course, young Kyrie Irving is off to a promising start in his Cleveland career for eventual canonization. Check back in 10 years for the likely Rookie of the Year winner.
Already Retired: Joe Dumars, Dennis Rodman, Isiah Thomas, Vinnie Johnson, Bob Lanier, Dave Bing, Bill Lambieer
Definitely: Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace
Possibly: Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace, Rip Hamitlon
Maybe Someday: Greg Monroe
Analysis: If you’re counting from the “Already Retired” list, that’s five of the Bad Boy Pistons of the late ’80s and early ’90s who’ve seen their numbers lifted to the rafters in Detroit. Could the starting five of the championship-winning, six-straight-conference-finals-appearing mid-’00s Pistons be in for similar honors?
It’s possible, but not guaranteed — the only two that seem sure things to me are Chauncey Billups, who has the Finals MVP on his resume and whose departure in 2008 triggered the Fall of the Detroit Empire, and Ben Wallace, who was arguably the key player on that ’04 championship team, has four All-Star appearances and four Defensive Player of the Year awards to his credit, and who even returned to Detroit to help see the team through through some leaner years.
Of the other three, Rip Hamilton’s No. 32 probably has the best shot — he was the team’s leading scorer and primary offensive option for most of their contending years — but his chances are hurt a little by the acrimonious way in which his Detroit tenure ended, with Rip phoning in the last year or two of his stay, playing a part in that player walkout mess of last season, and ultimately being waived by the team. It’s a similar story for ‘Sheed, whose arrival in midseason 2004 was the final piece of the puzzle for the Pistons, but who had the shortest time in Detroit of the core ’04ers (just over five seasons), and who was increasingly unmotivated towards the end of his stay, eventually finishing out his career with the rival Celtics. Tayshaun has no such PR blemishes for his Pistons career, but doesn’t quite have the resume of the others, being the only of the five to never appear in an All-Star Game.
Still, you’d think all five have at least a 50/50 shot at retirement (and I’d guess they all go up eventually, maybe at the same time?), which is certainly more than you could say for anyone else currently on the Pistons roster — though keep 2/3 of an eye on Greg Monroe and/or Rodney Stuckey, perhaps.
Already Retired: George McGinnis, Reggie Miller, Mel Daniels, Roger Brown
Maybe Someday: Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert
Long Shot: Jermaine O’Neal
Analysis: It’s a shame that the core’s involvement in the Malice at the Palace means that the Pacers of the first half of the ’00s — probably one of the five best teams in the league over that timespan — will likely never see a representative jersey hung at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The only one with a shot at it is Jermaine O’Neal, who was that team’s best player and started a couple All-Star Games, but the Malice stink still on JO probably disqualifies him, at least until the current Pacers squad is successful enough that memories of the squandered potential of the mid-’00s crew aren’t quite so fresh.
Meanwhile, some playoff success would also help the cause of Danny Granger, who has been the Pacers’ nominal best player for about a half-decade now, but has failed to really inspire fans due to his lagging shooting percentage and his lack of postseason burn. Roy Hibbert is young and improving enough that he could get there someday, but he has an even longer way to go than Granger. Not even Pacers lifer Rik Smits has his jersey in the Indiana rafters, so Hibbert will have to prove to be more of a franchise player before we can consider him a likely candidate. (And seriously, Indy — show the Dunking Dutchman some love already, will ya?)
Already Retired: Tim Hardaway, Michael Jordan (hah!) and Alonzo Mourning.
Definitely: Dwyane Wade, LeBron James
Possibly: Udonis Haslem
Maybe Someday: Chris Bosh
Long Shot: Shaquille O’Neal
Analysis: Wade should need no explanation. The dude is Miami basketball. LeBron might not be meriting after just a year-and-a-half with Miami, but nothing short of “The Decision II: Miami Massacre” should prevent him from going down as the second-best Heatle of all-time, and for better or worse, the Heat franchise is permanently linked with him at this point. Chris Bosh should get there eventually himself, but he still has to earn it. Some more years of All-Star-caliber play, a championship or two brought to the Triple A, he should join the other two guys in the rafters no problem.
Two other cases make for a more interesting debate. Udonis Haslem looks like a Heat lifer, playing nine seasons in South Beach after four years at Florida. He has a tattoo of the fucking state covering his back, he ain’t going nowhere. A key player on the 2006 championship team and a trusty sidekick since, UD will probably have a fairly legitimate case for jersey retirement once all is said and done. His chances are probably better than those of Shaquille O’Neal, whose arrival made that first title possible and who was a legitimate MVP candidate his first few years in Miami. His acrimonious split with the team in the midst of a disastrous 15-67 season probably precludes his enshrinement, however, and if he can’t get retired in Orlando, the city he put on the basketball map, it’s doubtful he’ll get there for his four seasons in Miami, either.
Already Retired: Oscar Robertson, Junior Bridgeman, Sidney Moncrief, Jon McGlocklin, Brian Winters
Possibly: Ray Allen
Maybe Someday: Brandon Jennings
Long Shot: Michael Redd
Another franchise that hasn’t had a retiree in a few decades — largely due to a scarcity of decent options — it’ll be interesting to see what kind of love Milwaukee shows Ray Allen after he retires. The guy was a three-time All-Star for Milwaukee, cracked the franchise top 10 in career scoring, and led them to the Conference Finals in 2001 while averaging 25 a game for the postseason. However, he spent nearly as long a stretch of his career in both Seattle and Boston, and may not “belong” to the Bucks enough for them to retire his jersey. Michael Redd certainly has the “belong” thing on his side, having played 11 seasons in Milwaukee, but was only an All-Star-caliber player for three or four of those years (spending many of the rest injured), and never won a round in the playoffs. Ultimately, I’d say neither goes to the rafters.
Brandon Jennings has a chance to carve out a career for himself as a fixture in Milwaukee, but recent comments make you wonder if his heart is really in Beer City. Andrew Bogut could possibly have a claim as well, but he needs to cool it with the tragic injuries for a season or two to really be able to capitalize.
NEW JERSEY NETS:
Already Retired: Drazen Petrovic, Wendell Ladner, John Williamson, Bill Melchionni, Julius Erving, Buck Williams
Definitely: Jason Kidd
Maybe Someday: Deron Williams?
Long Shot: Vince Carter, Richard Jefferson
Analysis: Though the Nets have six retired numbers in franchise history, all but two of them (Buck Williams and the late Drazen Petrovic) come from the ABA era. Gotta believe that Jason Kidd’s No. 5 will become the third one a few years after he retires, asKidd led the Nets to the Finals in his first two seasons in New Jersey, made five All-Star teams and finished in the top 10 of the MVP race three times, probably the best career of any Net since the merger. It seems unlikely that any other Nets of the 21st century will be joining him in the rafters, though. Richard Jefferson had some good years in NJ but never even made an All-Star team, and Vince Carter made several but never got the Nets past the second round of the playoffs.
No obvious retirees on the current squad, though if Deron Williams ends up sticking around to make the trip to Brooklyn, and gets joined by someone like, oh I don’t know let’s just say Dwight Howard, he might have a shot. Better odds than Devin Harris, anyway.
NEW YORK KNICKS:
Already Retired: Walt Frazier, Dick Barnett, Earl Monroe, Dick McGuire, Willis Reed, Dave DeBusschere, Bill Bradley, Patrick Ewing
Maybe Someday: Amar’e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Jeremy Lin
Analysis: You look at that list of retired Knick jerseys, you see a lot of names from those championship teams of ’70s, and not a whole lot else. No luck for a lot of the no-ring Knicks, including such big names as Richie Guerin, Harry Gallatin, Bernard King, Charles Oakley, John Starks and Allan Houston. So while Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire may be in for long, possibly illustrious careers at MSG, it’s gonna take a lot more than longevity and stat-compiling to get to the MSG rafters. They’ll have to win, and win big. And even though Linsanity might have fans lobbying for a Jeremy Lin statue outside of the Garden before he ever even plays a playoff game, he’ll probably have to do the same as well.
Already Retired: N/A
Possibly: Dwight Howard, Tracy McGrady
Maybe Someday: N/A
Analysis: As the all-time franchise leader in just about every relevant statistical category, and the face of Orlando basketball since his drafting in 2004, Dwight Howard should be a slam dunk for eventual jersey retiring. But if we’ve learned anything from LeBron James, it’s to wait to see if and how he leaves before close the book on his place in franchise history. If he leaves for a bigger-market team, without an excuse better than “I wanted to,” will that come to define his Orlando tenure? It’s possible, though it might take more of a “Decision”-sized PR catastrophe to permanently burn his bridges in Disneytown.
In the meantime, though, what about Tracy McGrady? He only played four years in Orlando, but it was one of the best four-year statistical stretches that any player has put together in the 21st century, including two scoring titles and a PER over 30 in the 2002-03 season. He never made it out of the first round, but with running partner Grant Hill perpetually injured and no other teammates better than Darrell Armstrong or Mike Miller, can he really be held accountable that? It’s sad to me that Tracy might never get his jersey retired, and it seems to me that if anyone should do it, it’s Orlando. Let’s start the campaign here and now.
Already Retired: Moses Malone, Julius Erving, Maurice Cheeks, Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer, Bobby Jones, Billy Cunningham, Charles Barkley
Definitely: Allen Iverson
Maybe Someday: Andre Iguodala
Analysis: Iverson’s the obvious choice — assuming he eventually gives up on his increasingly unlikely NBA comeback, and can go a month or two without being the subject of a tragic news headline, he should see his No. 3 go to the rafters at Wells Fargo sometime in the next few years. No other inevitables for Philly, but Andre Iguodala makes for an interesting What If. Though ‘Dre’s relationship with the Philly fans has always been more keyed around what he can’t do than what he can, if he ever experiences some sustained playoff success with the Sixers, he’ll have a convincing case for retirement, having played in Philly for eight seasons and already creeping his way up in a lot of impressive all-time franchise statistical ranks. Long way to go, but it’s not impossible.
Already Retired: N/A
Possibly: Vince Carter, Chris Bosh
Maybe Someday: N/A
Analysis: Will Raptors fans ever forgive either of their franchise-defining players enough for the first NBA jersey to be raised to the rafters north of the Border? Vince Carter and Chris Bosh both more than stated their case for jersey retirement while playing for Toronto, giving the Raptors five All-Star seasons and two playoff appearances each, essentially being involved in (and often directly responsible for) every relevant moment in Raps franchise history between them. But both left the team acrimoniously, and both (Carter especially) will have to do a lot of groveling before being accepted as a non-enemy in hockey country, let alone a franchise hero.
Here’s hoping Toronto will eventually deign to claim at least one of them, because it’s tough to project anyone on their current roster as an eventual retiree, unless Jonas Valanciunas ends up being the next Tim Duncan, or Andrea Bargnani does some real team-growing in the next few seasons.
Already Retired: Earl Monroe, Elvin Hayes, Gus Johnson, Wes Unseld
Maybe Someday: John Wall
Long Shot: Gilbert Arenas
Analysis: Only four retired numbers in at least that many decades of Washington basketball means that they don’t put just anybody’s jersey number out there. And though Gilbert Arenas looked like a likely choice for No. 5 when he was leading the Wiz to three straight playoff appearances, Gungate or whatever we called it probably permanently soured his rep in DC. Caron Butler and Antwan Jamison probably don’t quite have the stuff, and though John Wall has the potential, he’s got a lot of losing to shed before he can really enter the discussion.
Maybe it’s not too late for Washington to retire Jordan’s number for his two years in Chocolate City. Hell, they hung his No. 23 in Miami, and he never even played there.