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Chicago Bulls icon Michael Jordan didn’t play a single second for the Miami Heat, but the franchise retired his No. 23 jersey in April of 2003 as a sign of respect to him and his achievements. This is the story of how and why that happened.

“In honor of your greatness and for all you’ve done for the game of basketball – and not just the NBA, but for all the fans around the world – we want to honor you tonight and hang your jersey, No. 23, from the rafters,” Heat President Pat Riley said. “No one will ever wear No. 23 for the Miami Heat. You’re the best.”

It was another accolade for MJ

Jordan was the first player in NBA history to have his jersey retired by a team that he never played for, making this yet another on the long list of accolades for His Airness. The Dallas Mavericks did the same for Kobe Bryant in 2020.

The Heat didn’t have any obligation to perform this historic gesture. MJ never played for the franchise, and his jersey number didn’t need to be retired. However, the team respected Jordan so much that they felt compelled to do so.

Jordan averaged 30.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists in 38 career games against the Heat.

Jordan’s reaction to Miami’s gesture

Many don’t understand why the Heat decided to hang MJ’s No. 23 in the rafters, even though he never played for them. Riley explained it was made as a sign of respect of what Jordan has done for the game.

”Having our guys walk onto the court and look up to see how high you have to climb to reach what he has achieved is something that I think is honorable,” Riley explained. ”I just believe he deserves it. The guy has been the greatest player in the history of the game, and I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea for every team in this league to hang his number in the rafters as a reminder of what greatness is all about.”

MJ felt really humbled by the way the Heat honored him. ”It was by far the best gift I ever could have received,” Jordan commented. ”To have your jersey retired in someone else’s building, that says a lot. ... It’s definitely something very, very special.”