NBA AM: Best Numbers Still Not Retired
Dikembe Mutombo got his number retired in Denver, but plenty of other great players still await similar treatment.
Dikembe Mutombo was honored in Denver this past weekend in having his #55 uniform retired there, and it’s something that made plenty of sense considering his place as one of the most important and influential Denver Nuggets of all time. Shaquille O’Neal will have his number retired in Miami later this year, as well, and it won’t be long until recently retired players like Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant receive similar treatment (though it’s hard to know whether L.A. will send up #8 or #24 for Bryant).
Even with this flurry of jersey retirement ceremonies on deck, there remain a number of great NBA players who have yet to see their own uniforms retired. The following are some of the better players in league history to go without seeing their numbers hang in their teams’ rafters.
Tracy McGrady, Orlando Magic – Easily one of the most prolific scorers of his era, McGrady was an undeniable force throughout his entire career. Having made seven All-Star games and having won the scoring title twice, he’s got the sort of resume that would get any player’s number retired had the whole thing been with a single team. McGrady, however, spent his best years split between Orlando and Houston, which, combined with his lack of postseason success, makes it hard for either team to hang that #1 jersey in the rafters. Orlando has the better argument, as McGrady averaged 28.1 PPG in his time there, but he only spent four seasons in Central Florida. Despite his resume, T-Mac may never see his number retired in the NBA. His Chinese team, however, did hang his number, so at least he got some love somewhere.
Ray Allen, Milwaukee Bucks – Unfortunately, Allen is in a similar boat, having spread his prolific career across Milwaukee, Seattle, Boston and Miami. Allen amassed a ton of career statistics in Milwaukee, but saw his best scoring seasons in Seattle and won his rings in Boston and Miami. Seattle can’t retire his number because they aren’t even a team anymore, but Milwaukee absolutely could were they so inclined. As one of the greatest shooters of all time, it seems odd that nobody would retire his number, but at this point if Milwaukee doesn’t, nobody will. It probably doesn’t help that the Bucks’ best current player, Giannis Antetokounmpo, wears Allen’s old #34.
Bernard King, New York Knicks – When we think of Bernard King, we undeniably think of him as a member of the New York Knicks, due in large part to the fact that he played his best seasons there and actually was born in Brooklyn, but the reality is that he played for four other teams over the course of his career and only spent three healthy seasons in New York. Still, in those three seasons he averaged 26.5 PPG and 5.2 RPG and made a couple of All-Star teams, and his #30 Knicks uniform is an iconic one. For now, it seems as if there just wasn’t enough history to get it retired in Madison Square Garden.
Artis Gilmore, Chicago Bulls – Gilmore used to say that since none of the teams he played for had retired his number, he couldn’t imagine that he’d ever be admitted to the Hall of the Fame, but he was, which means at least one of those organizations probably should go ahead and take #53 off the market for incoming players. Few would argue that Gilmore isn’t one of the best centers in the history of the game, and his best numbers in the NBA came during his seven years with the Chicago Bulls, where he averaged 19.3 PPG, 11 RPG and 2.1 BPG. He is easily one of the best Chicago basketball players ever and is pretty clearly next up should the team decide to retire another number. He’s been in the Hall for half a decade. It’s time to get him in the rafters, too.
Shaquille O’Neal, Orlando Magic – It’s not that anybody feels bad for O’Neal, who already has his number retired in Los Angeles and will have his number retired in Miami later this season, but his impact in Orlando was just as great, even if it didn’t come with a championship. O’Neal played 95 more games in Orlando than he did in Miami and averaged 7.6 more points and 3.4 more rebounds than he did as a member of the HEAT. Plus, Orlando didn’t shake its expansion team stigma until O’Neal led the team to the NBA Finals for the first time in 1994, so there’s plenty of reasons to retire #32 for the other Florida team, too.
Moses Malone, Philadelphia 76ers – While Malone only played four seasons in Philadelphia, his time there was unbelievably productive. He averaged 23.9 PPG and 13.4 PPG as a Sixer and led the team to a championship in 1983, when he also was named Finals MVP. That year’s Philly team was one of the most successful regular season squads ever, and Malone himself was named to the All-NBA First Team twice and even earned a league MVP award while in Philadelphia. Nobody has worn #2 there since Malone left anyway, so there’s little reason not to make its retirement a formality.
Shawn Kemp & Gary Payton, Seattle SuperSonics – Outside Jack Sikma, Payton and Kemp are arguably the two greatest Seattle SuperSonics of all time, and if Seattle still had their NBA team there’s little reason to believe that both players wouldn’t have had their numbers retired by now. The problem is that should Seattle ever get an expansion team, they’ll take over the team’s history and retired numbers, giving the Thunder a completely clean slate in OKC. That doesn’t give the Thunder a whole lot of incentive to retire the numbers of players that aren’t part of the team’s “official” history anymore. Should the Sonics ever return to Seattle, retiring Payton’s and Kemp’s numbers will be one of the first orders of business.
Obviously, NBA teams can’t retire the uniforms of every halfway decent player who spend a couple of years playing for them, but some players are prolific enough in short periods of time to warrant a little extra recognition. These are those kinds of players, and if basketball karma works the way it’s supposed to, they’ll get the respect they deserve in due time.
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