Can't LeBron James just say his decision to switch his jersey from No. 23 to No. 6 is all about marketing?
Yes, there certainly is some veracity to James' claim that he is switching jersey numbers in an effort to have Michael Jordan's No. 23 retired by the league. But this is where it gets confusing: If James is not going to wear No. 23 to honor his all-time favorite player, and he is going to switch to No. 6 because it's the jersey of his second-favorite player, Julius Erving, then isn't that, by extension, actually dishonoring his second-favorite player? And doesn't it dishonor the great players who came before Jordan if the NBA actually agrees to retire No. 23?
It all gets a bit tangled when you're trying to honor somebody, doesn't it?
Jordan obviously was a fantastic player, maybe even the best. But that's debatable, and Jordan certainly is not the only player who transcended the sport. George Mikan, Oscar Robertson, Rick Barry, Bill Russell, Pete Maravich, Erving, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Allen Iverson, ShaquilleO'Neal, Kobe Bryant -- the list goes on.
Oh, yeah, let's not forget about Wilt Chamberlain. Isn't it interesting that news of James' jersey switch became public on the 48th anniversary of Chamberlain's 100-point game in Hershey, Pa.? The man owns 72 NBA records and would possess even more if the league kept the copious amount of stats then as it does today.
If the NBA is going to start retiring numbers, shouldn't it start with the men who laid the foundation for the league instead of honoring the one man with whom today's generation most closely relates? Sure, history is written by whichever side wins the war. But let's not allow the contemporary players to pen the league's history simply because they are currently holding the largest Sharpie.
As with everything LeBron, particularly in this endless year of divination regarding his impending free agency, there is no shortage of speculation that can be rendered from his decision-making. For instance, what does this latest twist mean about where he will end up next year? Could a new jersey mean New Jersey? Only the most enlightened minds can decipher the augury.
A search of retired numbers reveals there is not a team in the league that will have max cap space that has the No. 6 hanging from the rafters. Sure, James cannot play for Boston (Russell), Philadelphia (Erving), Phoenix (Walter Davis) or San Antonio (Avery Johnson) next season, and the peasants in Orlando and Sacramento (6 for sixth man) could not be disregarded by The King without their consent. But none of those franchises have enough cash to seduce James into coming to their city anyway.
Where does the honoring stop? It's certainly not at the cash register. Is it any coincidence that the two players who sell more jerseys than anyone in the NBA -- Bryant and James -- have switched numbers, setting off an entirely new frenzy of sales?
A visit to the NBA Store's Web site reveals that an authentic James jersey sells for $169.99. If, say, 100,000 LeBron fanatics worldwide absolutely have to have both his Nos. 23 and 6 jerseys, the league reaps an additional $17 million, not including sales tax. A couple of "swingman" jerseys at $49.99 a pop and replica jerseys at $44.99 apiece, and the NBA is looking at an even bigger windfall. Oh, and let's not forget about personalized jerseys.
Add it all up and James' simple decision to "honor" Jordan becomes a massive money-maker. And this is all before considering the financial impact if he switches teams this summer. Imagine how well his new jersey will sell in the Big Apple should he join the Knicks.
All kidding aside, it's great if James wants to honor his hero. Today's young players get criticized enough for not respecting those who came before them. But do it the right way, for the right seasons. In this case, the numbers don't seem to add up.