LeBron James Calls for NBA to Retire No. 23 League-Wide

LeBron James's tribute to MJ sparks league-wide debate.

by Nouman Rasool
LeBron James Calls for NBA to Retire No. 23 League-Wide
© Christian Petersen/Getty Images

In a move reflecting both homage and advocacy, LeBron James, at the age of 25 in 2009, vocally proposed that the NBA should retire jersey number 23 across all teams to honor the legendary Michael Jordan. James highlighted the monumental influence Jordan had on the game, crediting him for laying the groundwork for future stars like Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, and himself.

Despite Jordan's significant contributions, LeBron pointed out, "He can't get the logo. And if he can't, something has to be done. I feel like no NBA player should wear 23. I'm starting a petition, and I've got to get everyone in the NBA to sign it.

Now, if I'm not going to wear No. 23, then nobody else should be able to wear it." At the time, LeBron was wearing number 23 for the Cleveland Cavaliers, a tribute to his idol, Michael Jordan, since his high school days. To underscore his commitment to this cause, James announced a forthcoming switch to number 6 after the 2010 season, in honor of his second-favorite player, Julius Erving, and significant personal dates and milestones.

LeBron's Unfulfilled Wish

However, LeBron's call to retire number 23 league-wide didn't materialize into the sweeping change he had envisioned, possibly overshadowed by his high-profile move to Miami in 2010. Interestingly, upon joining the Miami Heat, James had to adopt number 6, as the Heat had already retired number 23 in honor of Jordan in 2003, a gesture also made by the Chicago Bulls.

Throughout his tenure with the Heat, LeBron wore number 6, only to revert to 23 upon his return to Cleveland and during his initial seasons with the Lakers. In a nod to the legacy of Bill Russell, James switched back to number 6 in 2022, a decision facilitated by the league's broad retirement of the number in Russell's honor.

In a surprising turn, LeBron announced his return to number 23 for the current season, more than a decade after his original proposition. This oscillation between numbers underscores the constant evolution within the NBA and James's career, leaving fans and observers curious about what future changes LeBron may embrace as he continues to navigate his illustrious career in basketball.

This narrative not only speaks to LeBron's respect for the icons who preceded him but also to the ongoing dialogue about legacy, respect, and the symbols that carry the weight of basketball history.

Lebron James