Bradley Beal has succeeded in making you feel old.
Upon joining the Washington Wizards in 2012, Beal switched jersey numbers. According to The Washington Post's Michael Lee, he wore No. 23 "at Florida, for his high school team in St. Louis, Chaminade, and for his AAU team, the St. Louis Eagles."
But no one has worn No. 23 in Washington since Michael Jordan. While the jersey number isn't retired, it's a tacit rule of thumb, universally known but rarely referenced verbally. Surely Beal could understand that, having paid tribute to His Airness in previous years by sporting No. 23, right?
Beal gave up No. 23 once he was drafted, but it was LeBron James—not Jordan—who was the inspiration behind his initial identifier.
"I never watched Michael Jordan growing up,” said Beal, in a recent episode of Wizards Magazine, via The Washington Post's Sarah Kogod." "I grew up, ‘23’ was LeBron. I always knew about Michael Jordan, but I can’t necessarily model myself after him. I always admired LeBron and the way he played all the time when he was in Cleveland."
Those looking for a sign of the times, here it is.
Used to be that players entering the NBA paid homage to Jordan above everyone else. They, like many of us, grew up on Jordan's jumpers, game-winners and recurrent championships. Kids mimicked his every move in driveways and blacktops, preparing themselves for eternal fame.
Everybody wanted to be Jordan.
Until they wanted to be James.
Nearly 11 years removed from Jordan's last season, and almost 11 years into James' illustrious career, it's about time we became accustomed to moments like these. James is the league's unchallenged best player and whether you admit it or not, figures into the "greatest of all time" conversation.
James is this generation's Jordan.
When Beal entered the NBA, he was only 19. In 2002-03, when Jordan last played, he was nine. Even if he was fervidly watching hoops then, that wasn't vintage Jordan. Beal was four going on five, still slave to phrases like "nap time," when Jordan won his last title.
Staying true to "the cycle," they grew up on James.
"It wasn’t really nothing too serious," Beal said of meeting Jordan following his predraft workout for the Charlotte Bobcats in June 2012, via Lee. "It was just a meet and greet. Nothing really too extraordinary about that."
Not when it was James who he, and so many others like him, idolized first and foremost.