LeBron Giving Up #23 to Honor Michael Jordan

Wants other NBA Players to Follow His Lead

Elsa/Staff/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

LeBron James has announced he'll give up his uniform number after the season, as a way of honoring Michael Jordan. His Airness, of course, wore #23 for most of his career... except for a brief stint as #45 when he returned from his stint as a minor-league baseball player.

"I just think what Michael Jordan has done for the game has to be recognized some way soon," James told reporters. "There would be no LeBron James, no Kobe Bryant, no Dwyane Wade if there wasn't Michael Jordan first."

James plans to switch to number six, which is his Team USA number and his son's birthday.

Retiring Numbers League-Wide

The league-wide retirement of a uniform number isn't totally unprecedented; Major League Baseball retired Jackie Robinson's #42 in 1997, honoring the 50th anniversary of Robinson's debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Players who were assigned 42 at the time were allowed to keep the number; today, Mariano Rivera of the Yankees is the last "grandfathered" 42 in the game.

There has been talk of retiring #21 league-wide to honor Roberto Clemente, but nothing official has been announced as of yet.

The NHL formally retired number 99 league-wide to honor Wayne Gretzky, while Mario Lemieux' 66 is "unofficially" retired; no NHL player has worn 66 since Lemieux's retirement.

Who Wears #23 Today?

Other than James, there are 12 NBA players currently wearing number 23:
  • Devin Brown - (Hornets)
  • Marcus Camby (Clippers)
  • Toney Douglas (Knicks)
  • Stephen Graham (Bobcats)
  • Wesley Matthews (Jazz)
  • Kevin Martin (Kings)
  • Jodie Meeks (Bucks)
  • B.J. Mullens (Thunder)
  • Jason Richardson (Suns)
  • C.J. Watson (Warriors)
  • Martell Webster (Trail Blazers)
  • Lou Williams (76ers)
NBA rules require players wishing to change numbers to notify the league by March.

A Question of Motivation

It's somewhat difficult not to question the motivation for James' grand gesture, coming just days after he announced he won't take any further questions about his pending free agency.
The Jordan talk makes for a very effective change-of-topic.

Then, there's the Nike factor. James' 23 is a big part of his "brand" -- the number is a big part of the logo used on his sneaker line. Changing numbers could mean a big marketing push -- which could mean big dollars for the company tied so closely to both James and Jordan.

Kobe's Number Change

The last high-profile NBA player to change uniform numbers was Kobe Bryant, who switched from #8 to #24 for the 2006-07 season.