The Los Angeles Lakers just announced that they will be doing something that has never been done before–retiring two jersey numbers for a single player. If anyone is deserving in this modern NBA era of having two numbers in the rafters it’s Bryant. There is no question that Kobe is deserving. He won 5 championships in his 19 seasons with the Lakers and finished third on the all-time scoring list behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone. No one can question the Lakers for retiring Kobe’s numbers. Franchises retire numbers for all kinds of players, broadcasters, coaches, and management. Along with the Hall of Fame, having your number retired is among the greatest honors a player can receive. For this article I will not be considering whether Ted Turner (Hawks), Larry H. Miller (Jazz), Red Auerbach (Celtics), or Doug Moe (Nuggets) deserved to have their numbers retired. I will not analyze which broadcasters should or should not have been granted this honor. And while I can’t blame a struggling franchise for wanting to get people in the stands with a retirement ceremony for a retired fan favorite, I can and do blame certain franchises for cheapening what it is to retire a player’s number.
Franchises do funny things when they don’t have players good enough to honor. The Orlando Magic have “retired” the “numbers” of six fans. Then there is the Miami Heat who retired the number of a player who never played for them, in Michael Jordan. At least they were retiring the number of the greatest player of all-time, even if they can’t claim him as their own. I give credit to the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers for not retiring any numbers. At least they know that they have a history void of players deserving to receive this honor and the Grizzlies haven’t retired Big Country Reeves just because he was the franchises first draft pick and had a mediocre 6 seasons averaging 12 and 7 (like some of the players listed below). One day the Clippers will retire Chris Paul’s number 3 and Blake Griffin’s number 32, in the meantime, I’m glad the Clippers haven’t retired Ron Harper, Danny Manning, or Loy Vought’s jerseys just because they was the best they had. For the franchises that lowered their standards in retiring numbers of undeserving players, here are the worst players to have their numbers retired.
Bobby Phills, Charlotte Bobcats
Phills played just three seasons for the Charlotte Bobcats before he was killed in a car accident while racing teammate David Wesley. He averaged 12.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 3.1 assists in just 133 games. Honor the players who fall to an early death with a moment of silence, not by putting his number in the rafters to remind fans of your average three seasons with the franchise.
Brad Davis, Dallas Mavericks
Davis is a good example of what bad franchises have to work with when considering retiring numbers. Davis averaged just 8.6 points, 5.1 assists in his 12 seasons in Dallas and never sniffed an All-Star team. His career-bests of 12.1 points and 7.2 assists were good enough to be an average starting point guard, but not a player worthy of a number retirement ceremony.
Byron Beck, Denver Nuggets
In 10 seasons (9 in the ABA with the Denver Rockets), Beck averaged a pedestrian 11.5 points and 7 rebounds. I know that he made two ABA All-Star teams, but that was with expanded All-Star rosters. When a player’s Similarity Scores for Win Shares are most comparable to Michal Thompson, Caldwell Jones, and Red Kerr, you probably shouldn’t be getting your number retired.
Tom Meschery, Golden State Warriors
In just six seasons with the Philadelphia and San Francisco Warriors, Meschery averaged 12.7 points and 8.6 rebounds. He did shoot a stellar 42.4 percent from the floor. Meschery’s Similarity Scores compare to Robert Reid and Mark Olberding. I know the Warriors have had a tough history until just recently, but really?
Malik Sealy, Minnesota Timberwolves
I understand the need of a franchise wanting to respect the memory of a player lost to a tragic death resulting from a drunk driver, but a number retirement for a Sealy was overboard. The jersey retirement may have had something to do with Kevin Garnett. It was Sealy’s best friend, Garnett’s birthday party that Sealy was driving home from when he got in the accident where we was not wearing a seatbelt in his SUV with no air bags when he was struck by a drunk driver. To retire Sealy’s number for his 10.4 points and 3.4 rebounds in just 113 games in a Minnesota uniform shows how few players Minnesota has had to celebrate over the years.
Nate McMillan, OKC Thunder (Seattle Supersonics)
12 seasons and 796 games seems to justify this selection, but averaging just 5.9 points and 6.1 assists while starting less than half of his career games makes this one a real stretch. His Similarity Scores compare to Michael Cooper and Vinny Johnson. Good players, but not at the level where a franchise should be retiring their numbers.
Dave Twardzik, Larry Steele, Bob Gross, and Lloyd Neal, Portland Trailblazers
This Trailblazers foursome is in the rafters, but individually they didn’t really deserve it. In four seasons with Portland, Twardzik’s 9.5 points and 3.4 assists per game were enough to get his number retired. Larry Steele played nine seasons and averaged 8.2 points 2.3 assists. Bob Gross played 9 seasons in Portland and averaged 9.2 points and 4.5 rebounds. Lloyd Neal averaged 11.1 points and 7.7 rebounds in his seven seasons with the Blazers. I get that they were important players for the 1976-77 champions, but this would be like the Hall of Fall inducting Christian Laettner as an individual for his role on the Dream Team. Laettner did go into the Hall of Fame as a member of the Dream Team, but not as an individual. You honor championship teams with championship banners, you don’t see other teams retiring the numbers of individual players just for being on championship teams. Jersey retirement ceremonies are individual honors and should mean little more.
Vlade Divac, Sacramento Kings
At first I wondered if I was just being biased for thinking Vlade should be on this list because I always hated him, but the numbers don’t lie. In his six seasons with the Kings, Divac averaged just 11.4 points and 7.8 rebounds, and 3.7 assists. I forgot he made one All-Star team when he averaged 12 points and 8.3 rebounds in 2000-01, but that was when the Kings were the top seed and needed to send someone with C-Webb to the All-Star Game. It should have been Bibby. The Kings must have retired Divac’s number as part of the negotiations to get him to be the General Manager. He certainly didn’t earn it with his play. When a player’s greatest legacy was introducing the NBA to the European-style flopping, his number should not be in the rafters of any arena.
Avery Johnson and Johnny Moore, San Antonio Spurs
Johnson played 10 seasons with the Spurs and averaged just 10.1 points and 6.9 assists while starting 538 games and winning a championship in 1998-99. I am not trying to diminish the role of a starting point guard on a championship team, but the Bull didn’t retire John Paxton’s number and the Heat won’t retire Mario Chalmers’ number. But the Spurs have a history of retiring the numbers of average Point Guards. Johnny Moore’s number was retired after nine seasons with the Spurs averaging 9.4 points and 7.4 assists.
Jeff Hornacek, Utah Jazz
I’m sure this isn’t going to be popular among Jazz fans, but Hornacek’s 14.4 points and 4.0 assists as a below average defender is suspect for a player whose number was retired after just 7 seasons in a Jazz uniform. The player with the highest Similarity Score is Eddie Jones. Horny was a one-time All-Star while a member of the Phoenix Suns while putting up 20.1 points, 5 assists, and 5 rebounds, but he never approached numbers like that for the Jazz. In his best season he averaged 16.5 points, 4.3 assists and let opposing two guards abuse him on the defensive end. Hornacek was a key player on the two Jazz teams that lost back-to-back Finals against the Bulls, but that doesn’t mean the Jazz should retire his number. The fact that Hornacek was the best player to ever play with Stockton and Malone, explains why the Jazz never won a title.
Hopefully franchises will figure out that retiring a star player’s number is an honor reserved for the best of the best and too big of an honor to say “thank you” to nice players that the fans and owners liked.