From high school to the pros, teams across the globe have the jerseys of classic players retired. Only two numbers are retired throughout the entire league in American sports. Major Leagues Baseball has 42 retired for Jackie Robinson. The National Hockey League has 99 retired for Wayne Gretzky. But what establishes you as someone who deserves to have a league wide retirement of your number?
While watching the Miami Heat basketball game the other day, I noticed that they have Michael Jordan’s number 23 hanging in the rafters. He is arguably the best basketball player of all time. Retiring his jersey is the ultimate sign of respect. One issue. Michael Jordan never played for the Miami Heat. Jordan continually beat the Heat during the course of his career. The question was then posed: Does Jordan deserve a league wide retirement?
Gretzky is known as “The Great One” and NHL fans believe there will never be another player like him. So the NHL retired his number throughout the league as a sign of respect. But does just being great warrant such a high honor?
Robinson was a great player, winning and MVP, Rookie of the Year, World Series and is a member of the MLB Hall of Fame. But above all of his on the field accolades, Robinson was the first African-American to play in the MLB, breaking the color barrier. Robinson was great on the field, but his off the field actions are what earned him the honor.
The NHL says that 99 is retired because there will never be another Gretzky. But each league is always looking for “The next (best athlete ever here).” Then is the NHL saying they stopped looking? Do they honestly think his record of points scored will never be broken? By that standard, the NBA should retire Kareem-Abdul Jabbar’s number. Baseball should retire Cal Ripken, Jr’s number.
Different people have different opinions, but I think that greatness isn’t enough. Gretzky was great. Jordan was great. But in my opinion, just being great doesn’t mean you deserve to have your number retired. Players who have their numbers retired by the entire league need to have transcended the sport and changed the culture of the game on and off the field. The greats will always be remembered. When people say 23, Jordan instantly comes to mind. We don’t need a reminder.