Recently, the 76ers finally retired Moses Malone’s number and OKC retired uber-role player Nick Collison’s number. This reminded of a study I did back in 2004, when the Spurs retired Sean Elliott’s jersey. At the time, I was struck by the decision. Elliott was a pretty good player but not a top tier star that one would expect to get the retirement treatment. The disparate types of players got me wondering what criteria are used in this process. At the time, I wrote an article studying which players got their numbers retired and why.
I found the following categories:
-A-List stars/franchise icons: These are precisely the types you would expect to get their numbers retired, like Bill Russell, Michael Jordan, or Isiah Thomas.
-The Very Goods: These are the players who were very good and even All Stars and Hall of Famers but weren’t quite legendary like the guys above. If you hang around franchise as a leading scorer for six to eight years you should fit into this category. Examples include Jo Jo White, Joe Dumars, Bill Laimbeer, and Rolando Blackman.
-Longtimers/Mainstays: These are the retired numbers that engender good feelings because they were in town a long time and/or they were pretty good. The names start to get a little more surprising to outsiders and require some explanation (sometimes a lot of explanation). Quality may vary on these types but some examples are Al Attles, Geoff Petrie, Mark Eaton, and Brad Davis.
-Championship Role Players: This group of retired jerseys is related to the longtimers/mainstays. The slight difference is that these guys get bonus points (sometimes too many points) for wearing the franchise jersey while some star won the title for them. Obviously, these guys are pretty good too but the being a member of a championship squad is a quality that is often either overvalued by fans or becomes a magic pixie dust that will always give the locals warm and fuzzies. This group is made up primarily of Celtics (Satch Sanders, Cedric Maxwell, K.C. Jones, etc.) and a few other random players (Bobby Jones, Larry Steele, Dave Twardzik).
-Tragedy: Unfortunately, a jersey retirement night isn’t always for a celebration of achievements. Sometimes, it’s a way to try to cope with misfortune. There are six cases of players being killed/incapacitated while still in mid-career. A few of these guys had a chance to earn a legit retirement ceremony (Drazen Petrovic, Maurice Stokes, and maybe Reggie Lewis). But most of them were nice guys and decent players died too young (Malik Sealy, Wendell Ladner, Bobby Phills).
-Miscellaneous: Two guys just don’t quite fit neatly into any of the above categories. Nate Thurmond and Bob Lanier had their numbers retired by Cleveland and Milwaukee respectively. In both cases, the big centers played for the franchise for only a few years near the end of their careers. The retirements were earned partially because their arrival coincided with some nice franchise peaks and because both players were held in high regard as team leaders.
At the end of the article, I found a few odds and ends as follows:
–In late 2004, the Clippers, Heat, Magic, Raptors, and Grizz had no retired numbers. Since that time, the Heat and Grizz have retired numbers. The Heat have been a bit aggressive with retirements (Tim Hardaway, Shaquille O’Neal, and Alonzo Mourning). The Grizz chose Tony Allen, the ultimate organization guy, and Zach Randolph.
-In 2004, I listed the players who had not been had their numbers retired, whom I considered to be potential omissions. Malone in Philly figured prominently in the list as the one player seemed too good not to be retired (which was why Moses’ retirement reminded of the study to begin with). To see how things have changed with time, here is that list of players who had arguments with those that have since been retired:
Atlanta: Cliff Hagan, Lenny Wilkens
Charlotte: Alonzo Mourning, Glen Rice, Larry Johnson
Chicago: Norm Van Lier, Artis Gilmore, Chet Walker, Scottie Pippen (since been retired)
Dallas: Derek Harper (since been retired), Mark Aguirre
Denver: Fat Lever
Detroit: George Yardley, Bailey Howell, Dennis Rodman (since been retired)
Golden State: Paul Arizin, Purvis Short, Jeff Mullins, Tim Hardaway, Chris Mullin (since been retired)
Houston Rockets: None
Indiana Pacers: Rik Smits, Mark Jackson
L.A. Lakers: George Mikan
L.A. Clippers: Bob McAdoo, Randy Smith, Danny Manning
Miami Heat: Tim Hardaway (since been retired), Alonzo Mourning (since been retired)
Milwaukee Bucks: Terry Cummings, Bobby Dandridge (since been retired)
Minnesota Timberwolves: None
New Jersey: None
New Orleans: None
New York: Richie Guerin, Bernard King
Oklahoma City: Shawn Kemp, Detlef Schrempf, Spencer Haywood
Philadelphia: Moses Malone (since been retired), Dolph Schayes (since been retired), Chet Walker
Portland: Terry Porter (since been retired)
San Antonio: None
Utah: Adrian Dantley (since been retired)
Washington: Phil Chenier (since been retired)
A bunch of these guys will likely never be retired because they starred in other cities and the franchises have since moved ( McAdoo in Buffalo, Kemp and Payton in OKC, or Mikan in Minneapolis). In addition, some of these guys lack the “good will” we talked about to get the nod from ownership (Aguirre in particular).
-The Next Wave: So, who are the most glaring omissions as of today? Let’s take a look at the players who have emerged since 2004, who should and/or could have their numbers retired:
Atlanta: Al Horford is pretty close to the line.
Boston: Kevin Garnett will probably be retired for his role on the 2007-08 team. Rajon Rondo doesn’t deserve it but he’s a lot better than prior key players on other Celtic title teams.
Brooklyn: Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter are pretty close.
Charlotte: Maybe Kemba Walker.
Cleveland: LeBron James seems pretty obvious.
Dallas: Dirk Nowitzki is inevitable. Jason Terry and Michael Finley have outside shots as Mark Cuban guys who played well.
Denver: Carmelo Anthony has a pretty good case but left town so badly that he may fall into the Mark Aguirre/Dallas category.
Detroit: They have already retired most of the core of the 2003-04 title team. Tayshaun Prince has a shot as a long-tenured Piston and a member of that title team. Rasheed Wallace wasn’t in town quite long enough. Grant Hill has been gone since 2000 but this is a reminder that he was really good as a Piston.
Golden State: Steph Curry is a mortal lock. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are likely. Kevin Durant deserves it but if he leaves ugly that could change things to management.
Houston: James Harden is also an obvious one. Tracy McGrady was hurt too often to be seriously considered.
Indianapolis: Danny Granger and Paul George were good but didn’t last quite long enough. I’m still a big proponent of Rik Smits from the pre-2004 candidates.
L.A. Clippers: Most of the best Clippers have played with the team since 2004. Chris Paul was the best player and the game changer who made the team a serious franchise. He didn’t leave Los Angeles on happy terms but I expect the Clipps will (and should) ultimately retire him.
L.A. Lakers: LeBron may do enough to get retired in L.A. but it’s too early to tell now. Pau Gasol, as the second best player on two title teams, probably will get the honor.
Memphis: If Randolph and Allen were retired, Memphis will definitely retire both Gasol brothers and Mike Conley.
Miami: Dwyane Wade and LBJ are obvious. Udonis Haslem may be retired through the Heat Emeritus role he held so long.
Milwaukee: I have a feeling Giannis Antetokounmpo will get the call. Ray Allen and Michael Redd were both pretty good in town and might deserve it, though I doubt the Bucks are inclined to do so.
Minnesota: It’s hard to believe KG hasn’t had his number retired yet but there is evidence that he left town angry at the end of his second tenure. Kevin Love has an argument but his peak years coincided with some real bad times. Karl-Anthony Towns should have a shot eventually.
New Orleans: They have had two transcendent players, CP3 and Anthony Davis.
New York: Charles Dolan won’t ever retire Charles Oakley. Melo has a pretty good argument, though it’s not clear how Dolan feels about him either.
Oklahoma City: When Seattle finally gets a team, Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp will be retired quickly. For OKC players, Durant and Russell Westbrook seem clear. Paul George is also on track if he stays healthy.
Orlando: Tracy McGrady and Dwight Howard are possible candidates but Orlando doesn’t seem inclined to retire any numbers, let alone two guys who forced trades. I would personally retire Nick Anderson and possibly Shaq and Penny.
Philadelphia: We’ll see what happens with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Otherwise, they don’t have any other recent players (Andre Iguodala is below the line).
Phoenix Suns: Steve Nash is already retired but his two wingmen, Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire, deserve it as well.
Portland: LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard should be locks. Rasheed Wallace’s legacy is likely too complicated to get the honor.
Sacramento: They’ve already retired all of the best players from the 2001-02 team. Maybe, Mike Bibby might eventually be retired, though I think he’s not quite good enough.
San Antonio: Tony Parker will happen when he finally retires. The interesting question is Kawhi Leonard. The Spurs have retired role players such as Bruce Bowen and Avery Johnson, so Kawhi is over-qualified but it will take time for the wounds to heal.
Toronto: Speaking of healing wounds, it seems that the fans have made peace with Vince Carter, so he will be retired in Toronto soon. Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan are also on track. Bosh put up better stats than I remembered in Toronto but he will never be remembered too fondly there.
Utah: The Jazz have a few close calls. Andrei Kirilenko and Deron Williams were very good and have a decent argument. If he keeps up his pace, Rudy Gobert should be a lock.
Washington: John Wall has amassed the stats to be in the conversation but his looming contract may turn him into enough of an albatross that there won’t be enough good feelings to retire his number in the end. Similarly, Gilbert Arenas was pretty good but got injured quickly. He also made some pretty bad decisions that we won’t revisit here.