Sports fans of a certain age may tell younger generations that jersey retirement ceremonies are no longer cherished events. Franchises such as the New York Yankees and Boston Celtics are just two examples of organizations that could fill imaginary lineups based solely on retired numbers. Meanwhile, teams like the New York Mets aggravate fans by saving the honor only for distinguished former players, managers and coaches, so much so that it often feels as if no non-Hall-of-Famer can reach that level.
In some instances, it’s more a matter of “when” than “if.” Perhaps it’s more interesting to speculate on who, among the young stars in the league as of the start of the decade, will be among his team’s all-time greats 15 or 20 years from now.
Can Giannis Antetokounmpo, Trae Young, Zion Williamson and others from this generation match the achievements accomplished by the likes of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant?
The Atlanta Hawks began the 2020s looking forward more than thinking about the past, as no candidate immediately comes to mind for a jersey retirement. Joe Johnson spent seven seasons with the Hawks, from 2005 through 2012, and he helped the franchise reach the playoffs in each of his last five seasons while playing the best basketball of his career. Admittedly, our first pick would’ve been Mookie Blaylock, but the Hawks seem to be in no hurry to honor him, considering he last played in 2002. That leaves “Iso Joe,” who is second behind Blaylock in franchise history in converted three-pointers and also sixth in career points and career assists, as next on the list.
Your first thought could be that the Boston Celtics need to chill on jersey retirements for the foreseeable future, and, well, you wouldn’t be wrong. Since we can’t say “pass,” we’ll make a quick case for Ray Allen. Yes, we're aware, as Jenna Ciccotelli of Boston.com wrote, that Danny Ainge said Allen’s move from Boston to the Miami Heat in 2012 left a bad taste in the mouths of ownership as recently as February 2020. Nevertheless, Allen was part of Boston’s “Big Three” who toppled the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2008 NBA Finals, and he’s unquestionably one of the greatest long-distance shooters in franchise history . We already know Kevin Garnett’s number will hang in the Garden rafters. Allen's deserves to be next.
Per Garrett Stepien of SNY and others, Kyrie Irving recently campaigned for the Brooklyn Nets to retire Vince Carter’s jersey. Uncle Drew makes a solid point. Vinsanity joined the Nets in December 2004, and he made every All-Star squad from 2005 through 2007. His 23.6 PPG with the Nets will go down as his best career average. More importantly, he helped make the Nets cool in the New Jersey/New York area, if only for a handful of years.
We wouldn’t blame you for being legitimately surprised the Charlotte Hornets haven’t already honored Muggsy Bogues with a jersey retirement ceremony as of the posting of this piece. Bogues never made an All-Star team during his career, but he currently remains first in franchise history in assists, steals and assists per game. The shortest player in NBA history as of the conclusion of the 2019-20 campaign is also the most famous player to ever wear Charlotte colors for those who grew up watching him play.
We’ll hear you out if you have Dennis Rodman first on your list, but let’s all put some respect on Horace Grant ’s name. Grant played alongside Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen during the first three-peat tallied by the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s, and he earned two of his four All-Defensive nods with Chicago. So much about the Bulls since the collapse of Derrick Rose’s prime has been woeful. Retiring Grant’s jersey would give fans something to cheer.
In a fair and just world, the Cleveland Cavaliers would hang Kevin Love’s jersey at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse before the club bowed to LeBron James yet again. Unlike James, who twice ditched his “hometown” Northeast Ohio team, Love hung around longer than anybody could have expected even though he knew lean times were coming. Without Love, James wouldn't have won a 2016 NBA Finals ring. Let’s not kid ourselves, though. James is next on the Cavs jersey retirement list, and he’s getting a statue outside of Cleveland’s arena. Love will, in time, have his night at the Rock.
There’s no ambiguity here. As play-by-play commentator Mark Followill explained, the Dallas Mavericks are planning to retire Dirk Nowitzki’s jersey “early” in the 2020-21 NBA season, meaning it could occur before the end of the year. It’s well deserved. The one-time NBA champion and one-time NBA Finals MVP is the greatest player in franchise history, and there isn’t a close second.
Plenty negative can be said and written about Carmelo Anthony as an NBA player. The 10-time All-Star will, however, retire in the top-20 all time in league career points . That’s worth plenty. Anthony spent more time with the Denver Nuggets than the New York Knicks. He scored more career points in Denver. He was, truth be told, less of a disappointment with the Nuggets. In December, Anthony told reporters he prefers to have his jersey retired in Denver. He's earned it.
It’s easy to argue the Detroit Pistons wouldn’t have mowed the Los Angeles Lakers down in the 2004 NBA Finals if the team wouldn’t have traded for Rasheed Wallace during the season. Wallace’s guarantee that the Pistons would defeat the Indiana Pacers in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, which Detroit did, was an iconic moment of that title run, and he made a pair of All-Star squads during his tenure with the organization. Moments matter. That’s why we put ‘Sheed atop the list.
The Golden State Warriors should’ve taken care of this one before Paul Arizin passed away in 2006. One of the best players to feature for the old Philadelphia Warriors, Arizin was a 10-time All-Star from 1951 through 1962, and he won a pair of scoring titles in the 1950s. As of March 2020, Arizin remained first in franchise history in free throws and offensive win shares. Only a man named Wilt Chamberlain sits above Arizin in career total win shares for the Warriors.
Any debates about whether Tracy McGrady deserved to be in the Hall of Fame ended when he was enshrined in 2017. McGrady spent more time with the Houston Rockets than with any other club, and he made three of seven All-Star appearances while representing the organization. In May 2019, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta was non-committal on retiring T-Mac’s jersey while speaking on ESPN.
The Indiana Pacers don’t retire numbers on the regular, but Rik Smits has to be up there among franchise legends and among the most popular players to ever feature for the organization. The Dunking Dutchman was a one-club man who played all 12 of his pro seasons with the Pacers. As of March, Smits was second in franchise history in games played, minutes played, field goals, field goal attempts, points and blocks. He was third in rebounds and fourth in total win shares.
The Los Angeles Clippers won’t please everybody with their choice for the first-ever jersey retirement, whenever that decision is announced, because you can’t please all of the people all of the time. As of the start of the 2020-21 season, Chris Paul will remain the greatest two-way player in Clippers history, and he’ll be the man who leads the franchise in career assists, assists per game, steals per game, player efficiency rating, assist percentage, offensive rating, offensive win shares, total team win shares, box/plus minus and value over replacement player. Paul thrice led the league in steals as a member of the Clippers, and he was a two-time assists champion during his tenure with the club.
Much like with Horace Grant and the Chicago Bulls, A.C. Green was never the most important player for those Los Angeles Lakers squads that won three championships during his storied career. From 1985 through 1993, the league’s Iron Man missed a total of three — count ‘em — three regular-season games, and he is second in offensive rebounds, behind only Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, in franchise history. Green won’t ever go into the Hall of Fame. This is the least the Lakers could do for a club icon.
It wasn’t until the Memphis Grizzlies traded Marc Gasol to the Toronto Raptors and he helped The North win a first title in franchise history that some casual fans were able to appreciate his all-around brilliance. Too bad they didn’t enjoy Gasol in his physical prime. The three-time All-Star who once won Defensive Player of the Year honors as a member of the Grizzlies exited the organization as its franchise leader in minutes played, field goals, free throws, rebounds, defensive rebounds, blocks, defensive win shares, total team win shares, box plus/minus, offensive box/plus minus and VORP.
It’s yet another instance of the obvious choice being the correct one. Two championships. Four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals. The franchise leader in minutes per game, PPG, player efficiency rating, win shares per 48 minutes, box plus/minus, offensive box/plus minus and defensive box/plus minus. The only question here is do the Heat wait to see if LeBron James announces a last-season “retirement tour" and honor him then, or do they retire his jersey after he calls time on his playing career?
As Jimmie Kaska of Wisconsin radio station 1070 The Game wrote in March 2019, the Milwaukee Bucks retiring Marques Johnson’s jersey made this a more complicated matter. Glenn Robinson is as worthy a candidate as any not named Giannis Antetokounmpo, assuming the Greek Freak stays with the club through the 2020s. The Big Dog was a two-time All-Star who made 568 regular-season appearances for the Bucks from 1994 through 2002, and he retired second in franchise history in points and PPG behind Kareem-Abdul Jabbar. The Bucks had limited success during Robinson's time with the franchise, but that says more about the state of the organization than about any one player.
The Boston Celtics will retire Kevin Garnett’s jersey during the 2020-21 NBA season. KG is a Hall of Fame lock for later this year. It’s time, as Michael Rand of the Star Tribune and others have written, for Garnett and team ownership to mend fences so that the T-Wolves can retire the jersey belonging to the franchise’s greatest player.
“Surprise, surprise,” he said, in a sarcastic tone. CP3 is also the greatest two-way player in the (brief) history of the New Orleans Pelicans who is eligible to have his jersey retired by the club anytime soon, since Anthony Davis isn’t necessarily beloved around those parts these days. All jokes aside, Chris Paul made the first four of 10 All-Star squads with New Orleans, he won Rookie of the Year with the organization, and he twice led the league in steals and assists while with the team. At the start of the 2020s, Paul was the franchise leader in career assists, steals, assists per game, steals per game, offensive rating, offensive win shares, total win shares, win shares per 48 minutes, box plus/minus, offensive box plus/minus, defensive box plus/minus and VORP.
We know some out there will clamor for Carmelo Anthony here, and ‘Melo may one day see a jersey with his name rise toward the roof of Madison Square Garden. When many think of the last true “glory period” in Knicks history, the first two names that probably come to mind are Patrick Ewing and John Starks. Starks wasn’t on Ewing’s level. Ewing is a Hall of Famer. Starks, the all-time franchise leader in three-point field goals, was the grit and heart and soul of the 1990s Knicks that took the Chicago Bulls to the breaking point. His dunk over Horace Grant and Michael Jordan in 1993 would’ve been memorialized via a statue had the Knicks won a title.
This is a touchy subject for obvious reasons, and it also illustrates how the sports world can often be silly. For example, the “new” Cleveland Browns that officially began on-field operations in 1999 still claim franchise marks from the original franchise, even though we all know that organization is the Baltimore Ravens. Per Basketball-Reference , former Seattle SuperSonics star Gary Payton remains the Oklahoma City Thunder franchise leader in no fewer than 11 significant categories. Maybe Payton would never accept this show of respect from a team he never played for, or maybe this would serve as an olive branch between two cities, particularly if/when Seattle receives a new NBA team to call its own.
It’s easy to forget just how special Dwight Howard was while with the Orlando Magic due to the underwhelming nature of the second half of his career. From 2008 through 2011, Superman was the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, and six of his eight All-Star appearances came when he was a member of the Magic. Howard is the Magic’s all-time leader in career points, minutes, two-pointers, free throws, rebounds, blocks, win shares and VORP.
The shocking passing of Kobe Bryant stunned and saddened the entire sports community. Per Lucas Johnson of The Sixers Sense, the Philadelphia native who attended Lower Merion High School was an adored member of that community, even if pockets of Philadelphia 76ers fans once booed him. While Bryant had no direct affiliation with the Sixers, this gesture would provide the city with a special goodbye to a hero who left us far too soon.
All things considered, Shawn Marion may be the most underrated and most unappreciated player in Phoenix Suns history. Marion spent nine of his 16 NBA seasons with the organization, and he was a four-time All-Star during the 2000s. He still leads the Suns in defensive rebounds, win shares and VORP. He’s also fourth all time in career points scored for Phoenix.
Jerome Kersey represented the Portland Trail Blazers in multiple ways. From 1984 through 1995, the forward averaged 12.1 PPG and 6.1 REB across 831 appearances. He’s second behind only Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler in career games for the franchise. He later served as director of player programs for the club. Kersey unexpectedly passed away in 2015 at the age of 52.
We all know the Sacramento Kings were robbed of an opportunity to play in the 2002 NBA Finals. Since the franchise has already retired Chris Webber’s jersey, Mike Bibby, the No. 2 in that dynamic one-two punch, should be next. While Bibby was never an All-Star, the guard spent seven memorable years with the organization, and he was responsible for one of the most clutch shots in team history. Bibby was the pulse of a Kings team that probably should’ve raised a championship banner. His jersey belongs next to C-Webb’s.
Each time Gregg Popovich misses a game in 2020, speculation grows that the five-time champion coach is eyeing the end of his career. No current NBA leader deserves to see his name in the rafters more. In an ideal situation, "Pop" would inform the team ahead of time when he is coaching his last game so that his final home contest could be a celebration of everything he has done for both the Spurs and the Association.
Until the 2018-19 Toronto Raptors won the NBA championship, Vince Carter was the name most synonymous with the organization. No disrespect meant, but we don’t rock those throwback Raptors jerseys in 2020 out of love for Morris Peterson. The height of Carter’s Air Canada days provided some of the most fun basketball fans watched during the first decade of the 2000s, but don’t assume he was merely a human highlight reel. Carter is the franchise leader in PPG, player efficiency rating, box plus/minus and offensive box plus/minus.
It’s time the victim of the most famous push-off in NBA history receives his day in the spotlight for a positive reason. Per a vote hosted by the Deseret News in May 2018, fans chose Bryon Russell as the next player to have his jersey retired by the Utah Jazz. Russell played for the Jazz from 1993 through 2002, and he was a key figure for the Utah squads that fell to the Chicago Bulls in the 1997 and 1998 NBA Finals. He’s eighth all time in Utah appearances, and he remains popular among local fans even if his stat lines will never get him enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
The only box Walt Bellamy doesn’t check is longevity, as he spent five seasons with the organization now known as the Washington Wizards. Bellamy won Rookie of the Year after he posted one of the greatest debut seasons in Association history. He is the franchise leader in PPG, rebounds per game, minutes per game, player efficiency rating, offensive win shares and win shares per 48 minutes. He’s a Hall of Famer. Unfortunately, he’s no longer with us, but this retirement ceremony would be better late than never.
Zac Wassink is a football and futbol aficionado who is a PFWA member and is probably yelling about Tottenham Hotspur at the moment. Erik Lamela and Eli Manning apologist. Chanted for Matt Harvey to start the ninth inning of Game 5 of the 2015 World Series at Citi Field. Whoops. You can find him on Twitter at @ZacWassink.