Kobe Bryant Debate: Are Mark Cuban and the Mavs Right To Retire No. 24?
DALLAS - Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks moved quickly after the tragic deaths of iconic NBA star Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others in a Sunday helicopter accident. As the world - sports and beyond - mourned, assorted NBA teams and players crafted tributes. The Mavs' version, in Cuban's words:
"Kobe’s legacy transcends basketball, and our organization has decided that the number 24 will never again be worn by a Dallas Maverick.''
CowboysSI.com's Mike Fisher has covered the Mavs and the Dallas Cowboys for 30 years. So has Richie Whitt, a life-long Mavs and Cowboys follower who has served as a newspaper beat writer and columnist on the Mavs since the 1990s, and a keen commentator on the DFW sports scene since.
Their debate, in the wake of the tragedy: Are Cuban and the Mavs doing the right thing in honoring Bryant this way? Or is there such a thing as "too much tribute''?
WHITT: He was one of the greatest players to ever bounce a basketball.
He possessed immense talent, punctuated by breath-taking athleticism.
He was a relentlessly fierce competitor.
He forged his gifted DNA with an intense work ethic, to become one of the best players in NBA history.
He matured into a loving father to his family; a passionate ambassador for his sport.
He deserves every tribute, accolade and eulogy.
Kobe Bryant was not a Dallas Maverick.
In the wake of Kobe’s shocking and sad death in a helicopter crash that also claimed the life of his 13-year-old daughter, Gigi, this may come off as cold-hearted blasphemy. But amidst the warranted pillars of praise, I found Mavs owner Mark Cuban’s announcement that his team would retire Kobe’s jersey No. 24 to be confusing at best and unsettling at worst.
Classy, yet confounding. And Tuesday night at the AAC was classy, too, outside of the home team's performance in a blowout loss to Phoenix ...
I don’t for one second question Kobe’s reputation and legacy. Nor Cuban’s heart and intention. But …
For the bulk of his 20-year career, Kobe was the biggest villain on one of the Mavs’ most intense rivals. Time after time, year after year, his skill and will kept Cuban’s team from getting to where it wanted to be. It wasn’t until the Mavs swept the Lakers that they truly believed they could win the 2011 NBA Championship.
I thought it was strange when the Texas Rangers retired a locker for Cal Ripken. This one is equally puzzling.
FISH: We are in total agreement on a large part of Kobe's Mavs-related legacy: He was my favorite "Love To Hate'' in all of sports - and of course we mean "sports hate.'' He was so brilliant - and so controversial - that Mavs lovers grew to despise him ... "sports-despise'' him.
But I think a Monday morning tweet from Cuban offers some insight into the motivation.
"I hope we all remember,'' Cuban wrote, "that Kobe and Gianna have brought our country closer together than anyone has in a generation. Their memory truly is a blessing that we should build on.''
That's an apolitical statement of love - and of the bonding that can come from love. In the view of Cuban's Mavs, Kobe was just that "transcendent'' - and, if we learn something from his death, maybe even more transcendent moving forward.
WHITT: I’m not here to desecrate the deceased with details about the rape charge, the infamous ego feuds with Shaquille O’Neal, legendary coach Phil Jackson once labeling him “uncoachable,'' the NBA fine for using a homophobic slur in a game, or those numerous “accidental” flailing elbows that consistently found opponents’ noses.
Let’s just say Kobe wasn’t Jackie Robinson nor Roberto Clemente, players whose off-field personas matched their between-the-lines performances to justify a league-wide number retirement.
With an admission that this is tiptoeing toward morbid psychoanalysis, is Cuban retiring Kobe’s number because he tragically died in a helicopter crash? Or because of his influence on the NBA?
If it’s a combination, as I suspect, here’s hoping –-again, still, always - that Michael Jordan (and his No. 23) lives out the rest of his long life both healthy and happy.
FISH: I wonder if critics are underselling the magnitude of Kobe's legend. The Los Angeles Times, just to pluck out one example. removed its paywall for Kobe coverage - in our world of juggling journalism and commerce, the sort of thing generally reserved for natural disasters ... where information to the public might save lives.
And more: He's now on the cover of TIME magazine. There is a movement to change the NBA logo from Jerry West to a Kobe silhouette. And a movement to immediately install him in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Even the Cowboys are all-in here, from Jason Witten's moving note to Kobe to the organization's acknowledgement of Bryant as a global icon.
The argument against the Cuban-led gesture is ignoring the apparent magnitude of a man that many Mavs lovers - including you - may not grasp. And, granted, maybe cannot be blamed for failing to grasp it. I don't hold Kobe in the same regard as, say, Muhammad Ail. But apparently, millions of other do.
Cuban's move is certainly not 100-percent supported by all MFFLs, but who is to say those who idolize Kobe are wrong?
Let's reflect on the panel of "voters'' here; I believe Cuban made this Mavs-world decision collectively with help from Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Shawn Marion and the like. Derek Harper, who mentored Kobe, is broken up. Dirk wrote a public love letter to Kobe. Luka Doncic is breaking down emotionally and writing the names of the dead on his shoes. Coach Rick Carlisle, in mourning the man, calls him a "cultural icon.''
I thought,'' Rick said, "Mark's gesture retiring the number 24 was an amazing gesture of respect not only to Kobe Bryant, the great player, but also to his family.''
"Kobe Haters'' would lose this "vote.' In a landslide. Maybe, simply, they see something you do not. Maybe they find comfort in this. Or solace. Or can learn something from it. Majority rules?
WHITT: OK, but why No. 24?
Kobe’s domination of Dallas climaxed Dec. 20, 2005 when – in three quarters, mind you – he outscored the Mavs by himself, 62-61. In that game, however, he wore No. 8, not 24.
Though his production was similar – 16,777 points and three titles in No. 8; 16,866 points and two titles in No. 24 – I’ll always remember Kobe as No. 8. He broke into the league fresh out of high school with that number and reached his apex in it, averaging 35.4 points per game in 2006.
Kobe was immortal enough to have both jerseys retired by the Lakers at Staples Center, and his epic farewell game was in 24. But in Dallas, if at all, he should memorialized with No. 8.
Because this franchise’s “best” players to wear that number were over-the-hill'ers Antoine Walker (2004) and Deron Williams (2017).
And, mostly, because we already have our No. 24.
Why not Mark Aguirre?
To some of us fans that attended the first game at Reunion Arena in 1980, the Mavericks’ No. 24 will always belong to Mark Aguirre.
He was the Mavs’ first All-Star (1984), led them to a Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals (1988), is third on the franchise’s all-time scoring list behind only Dirk Nowitzki and Rolando Blackman, and still holds the team record with a career scoring average of 24.6 points per game.
I’ve long waited for Aguirre to be raised to our rafters. Now, I can’t imagine it ever happening.
No offense to Kobe’s accomplishments or Cuban’s aim, but Aguirre as the franchise’s first superstar did much more for the Mavs than the 20-year heartbeat of the Lakers.
FISH: I stated immediate after the Cuban announcement that I was certain Mark Aguirre can still have "his'' number retired; it'll just be "retired'' via two impactful stars. Cuban has since acknowledged the same.
I will give you this oddity, though: Who would've ever thought that Dallas might retire Kobe's number before it retires Dirk's?
WHITT: And speaking of Nowitki ...
As I digested Cuban’s well-meaning tribute and pondered some alternatives - a “Kobe Night” against the Lakers where every ticket in the gym is $24 … a commemorative Kobe No. 24 Mavs jersey … A Kobe tribute banner (sans retired number) raised at American Airlines Center - one question gnawed at me:
If, God forbid, Dirk died today in a tragic way, would the Lakers retire his No. 41?