Jordan, Lebron and 23
Still, I don't think that excuses Lebron James for choosing an entirely unoriginal number. He wears #23 for the Cavaliers ostensibly because he wore it in high school. But if there was a good chance I was going to become one of the greatest basketball players of all time, I would probably not wear the number of another greatest basketball player of all time. Invariably, different stars each year get compared to Jordan and summarily dismissed for some flaw in their game or lack of overall success. Lebron is one of these stars - someone who will be mentioned in the same breath as Jordan for the next 10 - 15 years. Only, he's on track for a similar amount of success and has a fairly flawless game at age 21.
Maybe jersey numbers don't matter. I came to this train of thought after sitting through a long but satisfying Yankees game yesterday afternoon and idly looking out over the many numbers that had been retired. The double 8s caught my eye. The only number that has been retired twice on the same team is #8 for the Yankees. Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra - both catchers - both wore it and both saw it retired. Their monuments now stand side-by-side in the monument corner of the stadium. The goal of retiring a number seems like it should be to take it out of the conversation, to only see it mentioned with regard to that ONE player. Did Bill Dickey see it as veneration when Yogi took his number (before it was retired) or was he just slightly annoyed?
While #23 has only been retired in Chicago, Jordan was such a great player it's really like his number was retired everywhere. Even when Don Mattingly (who meant way more to me than Jordan) wore #23 for the Yankees, I always felt like he was wearing Jordan's number. Donnie Baseball actually switched his jersey from #46 to #23 in 1984 - the same year that Jordan was drafted by the Bulls! (Also, Mattingly has a son named Jordan. What does this prove? That wikipedia is kind of cosmically awesome. ) So if Jordan's number overshadows great players in other sports, how's it going to look when Lebron's legacy is inextricably tied to Jordan because of their shared jersey numbers? At the very least, it's going to make it slightly more complicated for Lebron to establish his own legend and slightly less meaningful when his number gets retired by the Cavs.
If I was Lebron I would change my number. Here are some numbers I like:
8 (now that Kobe is changing his jersey number)
13 (I'm not a huge A-rod fan but I admire his embracing and overcoming the unluckiness of 13. I saw him hit a walk-off, game-winning homerun yesterday.)
123 (isn't it time we got into triple digits?)