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Kevin Durant, fine with No. 35, wonders about how to honor everyone else.
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To hang up or not hang up, league wrestles with No. 23


Posted Nov 18 2009 11:56AM

Kevin Durant would appear to be the perfect first lieutenant in the LeBron James crusade. KD, after all, first picked up a basketball when the Bulls were dominating the basketball world, is close to James and happens to be a Nike guy. If anyone believes in the sanctity of No. 23, it ought to be Durant.

Surprise, surprise.

"I have a lot of respect for Michael Jordan and LeBron is one of my best friends, so whatever he wants to do as far as his own number I'm behind. But I also know who came before me," Durant said. "Nothing against MJ, but if you retire his number around the league, what about Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson and Elgin Baylor? And all of the other great players who went before?

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"If you're going to do that for Michael, you should do the same for the rest of those guys. Whatever happens, happens. I just don't think guys like Russell and Robertson and Chamberlain should be forgotten."

Durant's sense of history belies his 21 years. As for the Jordan debate, it hasn't subsided since James announced his intention on TNT to honor His Airness by switching from No. 23 to 6 next season and lobbied for the league-wide retirement of the number.

"I guess that's a nice gesture on his part, but [Jordan] isn't Jackie Robinson," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy countered. "They did it in baseball, but it had a historical significance."

The Jordan opinions run the gamut, as one might expect in a league as diverse as the NBA. Some side squarely with James, such as Jordan's former coach Phil Jackson, who called for a league referendum. (Not going to happen). Others echoed Durant's sentiments. An unofficial retiring of a jersey number, as in players simply choosing not to wear No. 23, was also offered up. Thirteen players currently wear No. 23.

Mavericks swingman Josh Howard was handpicked by Jordan to wear his signature line. Any guess where this North Carolina native stands?

"I don't think anybody should wear it," said Howard, who wears No. 5. "That's a number that he made famous. He's greatness. LeBron is great too, but he's not MJ."

Here is a sampling of opinions solicited by NBA.com:

Magic swingman Vince Carter (No. 15): "Michael Jordan is definitely one of the all-time greatest. I'm old enough to have played against him when he was in Washington. I was in a position for his last All-Star Game, I gave up my [starting] spot so he could start. That was my way of honoring him as one of the greatest to ever play. I grew up watching him playing here in Orlando and rooting for him. To have that opportunity [give up All-Star start] was a great honor for me. That was my tribute, my moment and I stay out of the rest of it with the number.'"

Bucks rookie Brandon Jennings (No. 3): "It's a good thing, but you've got to remember Bill Russell also played this game. Bill Russell won 11 rings. A lot of people didn't get to see Bill Russell. They didn't have ESPN in his time or anything like that, but the dude was a winner, too. When you talk about putting a guy's number away, there are a lot of great players that came through here. Magic Johnson, Bird. Those guys all won championships, too, and they also were great."

Blazers guard Brandon Roy (No. 7): "I don't think anyone should wear 23 out of respect for Michael. I wear 7, so it doesn't affect me. There's no way I would've taken 23. That's a pretty big number to fill."

Mavericks forward Shawn Marion (No. 0): "If that's what [LeBron] chooses to say, why after this year? Why didn't he come into the league doing it? But that's what he feels. I like LeBron. He's my man. That's his opinion."

Bobcats coach Larry Brown: "We should retire 6 [Russell], we should retire 13 for Wilt, we should retire Larry Bird, we should retire Magic, we should retire Oscar. I'm so thankful I've got a job. Those guys all gave me a career, so I love Michael and I really love what LeBron said. I don't he was trying to offend any of those other people. This kid has loved Michael since he's been a young kid and I think Michael was a pretty good role model for him, and I'm not so sure we won't be saying the same thing about LeBron's number down the road."

Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle: "It's great to see a young player like LeBron, who is still extremely young, has that kind of a sense of history and that kind of respect for those that came before him. If he's able to convince all the players in the league to do this, this is something that would be unique to the NBA. No other league has ever done anything like this, paid that kind of respect to their game's best players. It would be to me a great sign of where the respect of the game is on the list of priorities for our younger players and our players in general. I think it would be awesome if they did it."

Van Gundy: "I understand these young guys because LeBron didn't grow up watching any of those old guys. He thinks Michael Jordan is the greatest player ever, but there were actually guys who could play the game pretty well before Michael. You're going to retire all of the numbers and pretty soon our guys will have to wear No. 372."

McHale: Been There, Done That

Kevin McHale knows exactly what new Hornets coach Jeff Bower is up against. McHale was summoned from the front office last season, stepping down as general manager of the Timberwolves to coach the team he constructed. He was fired at the end of the season.

Bower took the same route in New Orleans, taking over after Byron Scott was relieved of his duties last week. The Hornets have already said that Bower isn't guaranteed a job back in the front office if it doesn't work out on the sidelines.

"In my situation," said McHale, now an analyst for NBA TV, "the owner [Glen Taylor] asked if I would take over and I said, 'Yeah.' He talked to me about team and direction and how we were struggling, and I thought we could get out of it.

"I was a little surprised by what happened in New Orleans. It seemed like Scott had Chris Paul buying into his program, which is a huge thing to have your best player buying into what you're doing. I just think there was something lingering from last year. You always heard some rumblings about Scott being on the hot seat coming into the season, so it was more than just the 3-6 start."

Bower lost his first two before beating the Clippers on Tuesday night. Making matters worse, Paul is out indefinitely with an ankle injury. And he wasn't happy with the coaching change.

Bower, somehow, has to get results.

"I don't think it's undue pressure," McHale said. "That's the reality of the business. He put the team together. When the owner asked me if we could win, I thought we could. I believed that. I'm sure Jeff thought that when the owner asked him.

"If you say no, then you have a massive rebuilding program. I don't think there's anything wrong with saying you can win. I feel a little bit for anybody where their top couple of guys get hurt and it doesn't work. If Jeff feels with Chris healthy they can win, then he has to go out there and prove it."

Quotable

"As great as we played and you want to break that team up? Obviously winning is not your priority."
-- Stephen Jackson on what happened in Golden State the last few years.

Starting 5

1. In my efforts to outdo LeBron, I'm not talking about 2010 anymore and am asking the league to retire Pi.

2. Could the NBA have chosen a better world ambassador than Dikembe Mutombo? Can anyone do a better Cookie Monster?

3. Bottom three scoring teams in the league: Chicago, New Jersey and Charlotte. You have to at least call AI, don't you?

4. The Wolves drafted 17 points guards and they passed on Brandon Jennings? Ricky Rubio has 55 points ... in four games this season for FC Barcelona.

5. Don Nelson and Larry Brown are never happy. Perfect trading partners.

Give-n-Go: Grant Hill

AG: Why come back to Phoenix?

GH: Where I'm at right now, I like the situation. I like the team. Throughout my whole career I've had some ups and downs, but I feel there's a mutual respect between me as a player and the organization.

AG: Was that not always the case?

GH: It's taken me this long to get to an environment where I feel that way. I'm not knocking other places, but I feel this is home. There may have been more financially attractive offers and opportunities closer to winning a championship on paper, but this is where I wanted to be. This felt the most comfortable. With that said, I still think we can be a great team.

AG: What will you take from the game when it's all said and done?

GH: There are values in the game, there are relationships and so much you learn about yourself. In my situation, I won championships in college, but with the injuries and overcoming that to get back to playing was more gratifying.

Art Garcia has covered the NBA since 1999. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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