13 Chamberlain. 44 West. 32 Johnson. 33 Abdul-Jabbar. 25 Goodrich. 22 Baylor.
2 Auerbach. 33 Bird. 00 Parish. 17 Havlicek. 6 Russell. 3 Johnson. 32 McHale. 16 Cousy.
10 Frazier. 33 Ewing. 19 Reed. 22 DeBusschere. 15 Monroe.
Those are the retired numbers hanging in the rafters in Los Angeles, Boston and New York. You know who those legends are just by their numbers, let alone last names. They're surrounded by 35 combined championship banners, and little more than that. But after all, is there very much more to be said? Banners are hung in honor of tremendous accomplishments, whether that be Hall of Fame careers that have made indelible marks on a franchise, or a championship forever emblazoned on the docket of a league's history. Growing up in Los Angeles, going to school in Boston and living in New York, I've come to appreciate pennants hung from the rafters because it means there's been something worth celebrating. Maybe that's spoiled, maybe that's unrealistic, but maybe that's just the goal of sports. Maybe it's to appreciate the effort, but celebrate the victory. Anything in between is great, but not worth immortalizing up above the team, it's paying customers and a national television audience.
And this past week, the Miami Heat have yet again taken another big fat crap on what it means to be honored.
Last Saturday, the Heat raised their second banner in a week, this time to commemorate the Olympic gold medal win of LeBron James in this past summer's 2012 Summer games. This pennant will fly alongside a banner for Dwyane Wade's 2008 gold and Alonzo Mourning's and Tim Hardaway's 2000 gold.
Team USA doesn't play in the American Airlines Arena. In fact, the Arena has never held an Olympic contest or qualifying contest. The Heat, much like eight of the other teams in the league right now, have a reigning Olympic champion on their squad. To date, the Heat are the only team who seem to deem this individual accomplishment at all important enough to raise a banner to be visible for all time. If this were the case, why should we raise banners when players break scoring records? Congratulations Kobe, you're the sixth greatest scorer ever! Here's a banner! Oh Dirk, you won an MVP in 2007! Here's something to mark up your big day!
It's very significant to win a basketball gold in the Olympics. In Croatia. In the states, it's what's expected. It's an accomplishment to be celebrated, but certainly not with a type of marker reserved for winning a NBA title or retiring a number because it will always remind the fans and franchise of that player. Heat owner Mickey Arison is treating his all-world athletes like fat children who just received "Good Try!" ribbons for entering the race. It's a joke.
But he didn't stop the silliness there. Along with their two championship banners for their 2006 and 2012 titles (an extremely historically significant achievement - with two trophies, the Heat only hold the towel for seven franchises with more titles than them), the following banners fly from the rafters of American Airlines Arena:
33 Mourning. Completely defensible. 'Zo is one of the greatest players in the franchise's short history, a borderline Hall of Famer who ranks in the top 5 of eleven major offensive categories, and a 2-time Defensive Player of the Year with the team.
10 Hardaway: Much less understandable, but had six great seasons in South Beach, garnering one 1st Team All-NBA nod and two 2nd Team All-NBA nods. Even with such a relatively short tenure, Hardaway ranks in ten top 10 all-time team categories. Fine. I guess. It's important to note that the Heat only went past the first around twice in five postseason trips with Hardaway.
23 Jordan: Yes, Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all-time. Yes, he won six titles. Yes, whenever I see the number 23 I think of him. Yes, in baseball #42 is retired league-wide for Jackie Robinson, a historically great player who broke the color barrier in major American sports. Yes, in the NHL, #99 is retired league-wide for Wayne Gretzky (the greatest ever on ice). But as great as Jordan's achievements were, his didn't come close to the social significance that Robinson's had and this isn't hockey--this is a league that people actually care about in America. Most importantly, he played for the Chicago Bulls and the Washington Wizards. I suppose retiring his jersey could sit as an important catalyst to try and get the number retired league-wide, but it's been sitting in American Airlines Arena for almost 10 years. It just confuses small children and irrationally angers bloggers.
This isn't to suggest that retiring the number 23 hasn't been floated around; it certainly has. But the fact that it hasn't, but the Heat thought it'd be a good idea to honor a player that never played for them and had no role in their history. But at least Jordan played basketball...
13 Marino: Dan Marino was a power forward for the Heat from their inception in 1988. He played for the team throughout his twilight, but gave the franchise a much needed burst of starpower in the shaky first few years in the NBA. He never made an All-Star team, nor a All-NBA team with the team, but the Heat owe a great deal to this legendary basketball player.
Dan Marino is better known for his association with Ace Ventura than he is with the Miami Heat. #13 is a legend in the National Football League, but never played a game of amateur or professional basketball, nor does he have any connection with the team other than being a Miami sports hero. His jersey isn't officially retired by the Heat, but the number hangs from the rafters to "honor" the South Beach legend. Odd as it is, this "honor" only cheapens any other commemoration Miami has thrown out there.
Some teams, namely the Toronto Raptors, Memphis Grizzlies and Los
Angeles Clippers, don't have any retired numbers because, quite frankly,
there hasn't been anyone great enough to immortalize. As much as I don't respect those franchises, I respect the fact that they conduct themselves in some small way with dignity. Somehow, a major market like Miami has managed to use cheap gimmicks to neuter what it means to honor a significant achievement.