This morning on The Ticket here in Dallas, Craig “Junior” Miller led off a conversation by discussing a picture he tweeted last night from the American Airlines Arena in Miami.
The picture shows the rafters at the AAA, and it can only be described as WTF.
Curious as to why jerseys for a football player and a basketball player who played for the Bulls and Wizards, but never the Heat, hang from the rafters, Junior and The Ticket boys did a little digging. And sure enough, the numbers are actually retired.
Regarding Jordan, here is the intro from a game recap posted April 12, 2003:
Michael Jordan’s night was filled with mixed emotions.
He had his No. 23 retired before Friday’s game at Miami, received a farewell speech from longtime nemesis Pat Riley and watched a highlight video of his career on the big screen.
Then this, from later in the article:
Then the Heat retired his jersey, hanging it from the arena’s rafters. As the Heat unveiled the half-Chicago Bulls, half-Wizards jersey, Riley said no Heat player will wear the number again.
“In honor of your greatness and for all you’ve done for the game of basketball – and not just the NBA, but for all the fans around the world – we want to honor you tonight and hang your jersey, No. 23, from the rafters,” Riley said at midcourt. “No one will ever wear No. 23 for the Miami Heat. You’re the best.”
Jordan then hugged Riley and waved to the crowd. Jordan averaged 30.2 points on 51.5 percent shooting in 37 regular-season games against the Heat during his career. He was even better in the playoffs, averaging 34.2 points in 11 games.
His jersey was the first the Heat have retired in their 15-year history.
Since then, the Heat have retired the jerseys of former players who actually played for Miami, Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway, but it was Michael Jordan who was the first to have his number retired by the Heat.
I love this quote from MJ:
“It was by far the best gift I ever could have received,” Jordan said. “To have your jersey retired in someone else’s building, that says a lot. … It’s definitely something very, very special.”
Knowing what we know about Jordan’s bitter competitive streak, it would not shock me to know that have his jersey retired in an enemy arena means more to him than any tribute or statue in Chicago. And that’s not meant negatively; Jordan’s will to win was legendarily heartless and cutthroat, so sentimentality probably means a lot less to him than this level of respect from an opponent would.
Regardless, it’s shocking. I had no idea that any franchise in any sport had ever retired the number of an opponent other than as a league-wide gesture. It’s further surprising that we could get through the entire Heat-Bulls series with nary a mention of this (at least, not a mention that I heard).
It also makes me go Hmm… for another reason.
Remember when LeBron announced during his last season in Cleveland that he was planning to change his number from 23 to 6 after the season? This was long before we had any inkling he’d end up in Miami. In fact, the conventional wisdom still had him staying in Cleveland. The reason he gave for wanting to switch numbers was basically out of respect for Jordan, which seems curious at best since he’d worn Jordan’s number forever.
But if he knew he was heading to Miami, and that the number was retired and thus not available…like I said, Hmm…
Who the hell knows. That probably had nothing to do with it. I doubt LeBron knew that far in advance that Miami would be his ultimate destination. The question now is whether someday LeBron will get his jersey retired right up there next to ‘Zo, Hardaway, MJ, and D-Wade. If the Heat can get three more wins over Dallas, he’ll be well on his way.
Update: Immediately after posting and tweeting this, I received this tweet in response from @DerekIAm:
@JerodMSF Pat Riley has been spearheading a behind the scenes campaign to have Jordan’s #23 retired league-wide
I had no idea. I also think this seems immensely curious. Why wouldn’t Riley pushing for one of his former players – like Magic or Kareem – to have their jersey numbers retired by the league? Why is Riley all up on Jordan’s junk like this (allegedly)?
As I said before, things that make me go hmm…