16 Current NBA Greats Who Will Have Their Numbers Retired

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistSeptember 10, 2012

16 Current NBA Greats Who Will Have Their Numbers Retired

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    The Los Angeles Lakers announced at the end of August that they would be retiring two key numbers from the past, both of which make a ton of sense. Shaquille O'Neal's No. 34 jersey and Jamaal Wilkes' No. 52 jersey will be out of the rotation after they lift them up into the rafters, both deservedly so.

    Sure, Shaq is a slam dunk, and even those people who have never heard of Wilkes can look up his stats and justify his number being retired, but it has raised an interesting question regarding retiring numbers. Where do you draw the line between a fan favorite who played well enough for a case to be made for jersey retirement and one who perhaps doesn't have the historic numbers of other guys hanging in the rafters?

    Retiring a player's number is completely arbitrary in the end. It doesn't make someone more likely to get into the Hall of Fame and it doesn't alter a legacy, it just honors it. A player's number being retired should be and is totally up to the team, and the people who run the team usually have both the pulse of the city and the team's history well in hand.

    For that reason, I could get behind retiring quite a few jerseys of guys who have retired recently, including someone like the recently retired Jeff Foster. That's not a name I'm just pulling out of nowhere, it's a name that widens the scope of players who could be considered for jersey retirement.

    Foster averaged just five points and seven rebounds a game in his career, which is uninspiring. However, he became the second-longest tenured member of the Pacers next to Reggie Miller, and his presence with the team bridged the gap between eras, marking him as a very important player in Indiana's history.

    He was a bit like Brian Scalabrine in his waning years, but he was good enough in his prime to play every day and contribute to a team that was consistently atop the Eastern Conference.

    It may seem an unimportant distinction, but there are two types of retired jerseys across the league; those of truly great players and those of historically popular and important players—with the distinctions sometimes crossing. Guys like Shaq would be one of the former, while someone like Foster or Brad Davis would be the latter.

    With that, it seems pertinent to take a look at which players still dribbling would have the best shot at getting their jerseys retired and which are dancing somewhere along the borderline.

Questionable Calls

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    Mike Bibby: Bibby isn't a historically great basketball player, but in terms of basketball in Sacramento, he's pretty important. For a bit more than six seasons, Bibby was a part of the transformation into greatness for the Kings, and along with Chris Webber, Vlade Divac, Peja Stojakovic and Doug Christie, he was a beloved member of a few very important teams in basketball history. If the team doesn't move, Bibby has a good chance of seeing his jersey get lifted in Sacramento.

    Gilbert Arenas: Arenas is in a bit of an unfortunate situation. As the best guy to play ball in Washington since Chris Webber, his greatness as a player is undeniable. The only problem is that he left on very sour terms with Washington. It seems unlikely that Washington would consider retiring his famous "0" jersey.

    Vince Carter: Carter is in quite the same situation as Arenas. He was undeniably great with the Raptors, but he moped his way off the team until they traded him to New Jersey. If his number were retired in Toronto, the ceremony would likely be accompanied by a chorus of boos up north, and I doubt they'd apologize. His time with New Jersey, while good, never seemed as important as it could have been. So I'd call that a swing and a miss as well.

    Tracy McGrady: The biggest problem with McGrady is that he never stayed long enough with a single team to achieve historic status. However, his time with Houston made for some exciting basketball games and some very good teams. Despite the lack of postseason success, I could see the Rockets hanging his jersey up sometime after they string up Yao's No. 11.

    Shane Battier: Despite the fact that he's probably more recognized as a member of the Rockets or even the Heat these days, it's not impossible to imagine the Grizzlies retiring Battier's jersey. He was always a fan favorite and one of the most important Grizzlies in the team's history. Even better, all his years came in Memphis; it wouldn't be a weird crossover ceremony like if Oklahoma City were to try to retire Gary Payton's jersey (a horrifying thought).

16. Grant Hill

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    When you take into account the great career Grant Hill has had combined with the fact that he has overcome so many injuries and is just an all-around cool dude, there's no way the Suns pass up on retiring Hill's number along the line.

    Sure, his best days were with Detroit, plus he spent more time in the Motor City and in Orlando for that matter, but the most important days of his career were in a Suns uniform.

    He wasn't Steve Nash in that he was the reason for the team's greatness while he was there, but there were fewer players more liked in Phoenix and few guys who played quite as hard as Hill every time he hit the floor.

    If anything, retiring his number would be a bit of a lifetime achievement award, and with his days in Detroit long forgotten and his days in Orlando wrought with turmoil, Phoenix makes the most sense to do the deed.

15. Chauncey Billups

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    It seemed unlikely at the start of his career, but Chauncey Billups ended up becoming the second-most important Pistons point guard of all time, right behind Isiah Thomas.

    Billups was one of the biggest reasons the 2004 Pistons were able to take down the Lakers and hang another championship banner up in The Palace. All he did in that series was take home the Finals MVP Award.

    He continues to be a molder of young basketball minds as an elder statesman with the Clippers, but once his day comes to step down and leave the game, Detroit should take the time to think about when it would be right to retire his jersey.

14. Ray Allen

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    The Celtics love retiring jerseys, and regardless of the fact that Ray Allen spent just five seasons in Boston, they should jump at the chance to retire his number, especially when it's attached to the 2008 season.

    It's easy to remember Allen as a member of the Bucks or the Sonics over the Celtics, but it's undeniable that his legacy hangs on two things: his three-point shooting prowess and the title that he eventually won with the Celtics.

    Milwaukee could ponder putting his number in the rafters, but it's more likely that he sees his "20" hanging in Boston.

13. Jason Kidd

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    Jason Kidd's career is extremely hard to pin down. Kidd is going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame one day, but it's a bit of a mystery which team will retire his jersey. It would be a shame if it's not retired by some team in the future.

    On one hand, Kidd has spent more years with the Dallas Mavericks, split over two stints, also winning a title in his second go-around in Dallas. However, his best years were undeniably with the New Jersey Nets, and he took them to the NBA Finals twice.

    Kidd will probably be remembered by many as the guy that was great with the Nets, but it's not like he was useless as a member of the Mavericks. He was still an extremely effective point guard and was a big reason for his teams' success.

    It may end up being the Nets (although the move to Brooklyn can't help), but it seems more likely that Dallas retires his jersey on down the line.

12. Kevin Durant

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    Kevin Durant could retire today and the people of Oklahoma City would be ready to retire his jersey. He has been that important to the city and the team, plus he's put his ego aside and continued to play as a superstar in a small market.

    Durant is the sole reason that basketball in Oklahoma City was so successful so fast, and the fact that he was able to turn a terrible Sonics team into a Thunder team that made the NBA Finals in just five seasons is amazing.

    It's going to be a long time from now, but it's probably going to end up being Oklahoma City who retires his number one day.

11. LeBron James

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    The only thing that would possibly derail LeBron James getting his jersey retired would be if his career were somehow cut short and he were forced to retire in the next year or two. It's pretty plain that he's not going to see his jersey hang in the rafters in Cleveland so long as Dan Gilbert is their owner, and two seasons is hardly enough to justify retiring someone's jersey in terms of the Heat doing it (although they would probably just do it anyway).

    Taking into account another handful of years in Miami, and possibly even more should he decide to sign an extension with the Heat, LeBron should be able to cruise to an easy jersey retirement.

    Of course, there are crazier things that have happened in the NBA and it's entirely possible that years down the road (and we're talking a long time here) Cavs higher-ups could swallow their pride and recognize him as the greatest player in their team's history, retiring his jersey for the Cavs.

10. Dwyane Wade

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    Dwyane Wade is suddenly 30 years old and his body is starting to react to nine seasons of basketball, so it's not too soon to speculate about his post-retirement legacy.

    Wade has spanned two eras in Miami Heat history, winning titles in both (and who knows how many more down the road) making him a lock for jersey retirement in Miami some day.

    Miami fans have seen Wade transform from a promising young athlete into the best shooting guard in the NBA, bringing two titles and a Finals MVP Award along with him. Combine that with the fact that he was the ace up the sleeve of Pat Riley when it came to getting LeBron James and Chris Bosh to come to Miami, and you would be right in saying that he's the most important Heat player of all time.

9. Tony Parker

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    Tony Parker is just a third of the impressive San Antonio dynasty that is arguably still going.

    Parker, now the most valuable member of the Spurs, has been around for three of their four titles. He's spent 11 enjoyable seasons in San Antonio, and he brought home the NBA Finals MVP Award in 2007.

    It doesn't hurt that for the past 11 years—that's nearly 900 games of basketball—Parker has been the starting point guard for nearly 800 games. It's been rare to see a Spurs game without Parker since he came into the league back in 2001.

8. Manu Ginobili

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    Just like his French teammate, Manu Ginobili has been around for three of San Antonio's four titles in their run between 1999 and 2007, but his career has followed a distinctly different pattern than Parker's.

    While Ginobili has spent nearly half of his career with the Spurs as the first guy off the bench, his importance to the team has been no less than that of Parker or even Tim Duncan. He's been the most unique basketball player not named LeBron James ever since he came into the league, and we're not likely to see another like him for quite a while.

    Ginobili's career may not extend as long as Parker's, and in the end he might not be as important a player, but there's no doubt when you take into account the popularity of Ginobili and his effectiveness as basketball player that he can expect to see his jersey rise sometime in the future in San Antonio.

7. Ben Wallace

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    Even as a 37-year-old and even lacking his trademark afro, Ben Wallace continues to be a threatening force whenever he's in the game. While he's probably coming into his final season as a pro, it seems like he could hang around for a while still and bang into guys for 15 minutes a game if he wanted to.

    Sure, he's not blocking shots like he used to, he's nowhere near as fast as he was even just a few years ago and he's more than just a bit of a weakness for his team on offense, but it still seems like there's some value in those legs of his. Perhaps I'm too attached of an era gone past, but seeing Wallace go is going to be a sad day.

    He's spent nine years with the Pistons, including the 2004 season when he and 11 other hard-working guys showed the world that you didn't need a superstar to win a title, and in a way, Wallace was the heart of it all.

    Wallace was the embodiment of Detroit, and as often as that old cliché has been thrown around regarding the Motor City, it's never been truer. He's never been flashy and he's never been pretty, but he's been a hard-working, undervalued hustler who fought for everything he accomplished.

    There are few players who deserve to end their careers with a retired jersey more than Ben Wallace.

6. Kevin Garnett

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    Even though he's won a title with the Celtics, it's hard for many basketball fans to identify Kevin Garnett with any team other than the Timberwolves. He toiled away for so many years and made them successful so often with little help that it seems like there are visible scars on his body from those days.

    Still, Garnett's biggest team accomplishment, the 2008 NBA Title, seems like it's left the biggest mark on the big guy.

    It wouldn't be surprising to see both teams hang up his jersey. After all, he worked his way into the conversation as the best power forward of all time thanks to his work with both teams.

5. Dirk Nowitzki

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    When he decides to hang up the sneakers for good, Dirk Nowitzki will retire as the greatest European-born player to ever play in the NBA, and next to Hakeem Olajuwon he'll be the greatest international basketball player of all time.

    Not only does he have a number of all-star appearances to his name, but he's also earned himself a Finals MVP Award in 2011 and an NBA MVP Award back in 2007 to go along with his trademark flamingo fade-away jumper. There's just too much to list in the positive column about this guy.

    Dirk will most likely finish out his career with the Mavericks, and when the day comes that he finally does decide that enough is enough, that's the day that Mark Cuban will start planning the huge party in store for the ceremony.

4. Paul Pierce

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    Like with Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, the Boston Celtics should be giddy to retire any jersey remotely related to a championship Celtics team. Unlike Allen and Garnett, however, Pierce should end his career with just one team and one jersey under his elastic waistband.

    Pierce has spent 14 seasons with Boston now, and no other member of the Celtics since the end of the Bird-era boys has been as controversial and as important to the team as Pierce has been.

    His reputation was shoddy in his early days with the Celtics, and it took quite a while for the league (and even Boston itself) to consider this guy from Oakland as the future of the team. A few rough seasons and a dive into the basement came to a culmination in 2007 when the team picked up Allen and Garnett and transformed overnight.

    Pierce, along with his 2008 Finals MVP Award, will without a doubt be honored one day in Boston.

3. Steve Nash

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    He spent 10 thrilling years with the Phoenix Suns, two learning the game behind Kevin Johnson and Jason Kidd, and another eight running one of the most thrilling teams of the post-Jordan Era, and for that Steve Nash is one of the most deserving players when it comes to having his jersey retired.

    Whether it be throwing alley-oops to Amar'e Stoudemire or transforming young minds into health-conscious individuals in Phoenix, Nash never did anything to damage the team, and always worked his way toward helping his team out as much as possible, even if it meant staying with the team as it diminished into a shadow of its former self.

    There are those out there who will always be dedicated to Magic Johnson or John Stockton, Bob Cousy or Jerry West, but Steve Nash gave the kids of this generation a point guard to latch onto and argue the merits of him being the best of all time.

    It's easy to make cases against him, but there's one thing for sure: Nash was the point guard for the most flashy, exciting offensive team since the Showtime Lakers.

2. Tim Duncan

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    When the shade is finally drawn on Tim Duncan's career, he'll go down as the best power forward to ever play the game. Statistical arguments can be made for other guys, and people will point out all the help he had compared to Kevin Garnett, but it's hard to come up with even a handful of players in the history of the game that played quite as well as Duncan from start to finish.

    Even as his output has waned in the past few seasons, Duncan remains one of the most decorated basketball players in the history of the game. He's made the All-Star game in all but one year of his career (2012), won three Finals MVP Awards and a pair of NBA MVP Awards to go along with countless inclusions on All-NBA and All-Defensive teams.

    Duncan continues to be one of the best teammates (how you can measure that is beyond me, but Duncan is consistently near the top of that list) in the NBA, and it seems like nobody ever has anything negative to say about him (save a problem with some overreactions to foul calls now and then).

    He's going to go down as one of the most consistently effective basketball players of all time, and his jersey retirement should happen the day he decides he's done playing ball. 

1. Kobe Bryant

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    Unlike the Boston Celtics, who are keen to retire every number that has anything to do with a championship season, the Lakers save the ceremonies for the without-a-doubt stars of their past. I think it's safe to say that Kobe Bryant will make the cut.

    Forget the fact that he's possibly the most controversial athlete since Muhammad Ali and possibly the most hated member of the Lakers outside of the fanbase in the team's history. What you have in Kobe Bryant is the best guard of the post-Jordan Era, and that's something to marvel at.

    Kobe has fistfuls of awards to his name, he's got a ring for every finger on his shooting hand and he's working on one for the other and he's got a chance at breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's all-time points record.

    People tend to hyperbolize everything that Kobe does on both ends of the spectrum, so a lot of comments are brushed off as either fan-boys braying every time Kobe scratches his butt or haters scoffing as he misses a contested 18-footer, making it hard to truly grasp what he's been to the league.

    In short, he's been what the league needed after Michael Jordan. He's not as great as Jordan, even with a sixth ring he won't get there, but he has been something to talk about and someone for a lot of fans to rally behind. What more could be asked for from the longtime face of the NBA?

    If you are one of those twitterers, you can follow me @JDorsey33.


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