Posts Tagged ‘Jackie Robinson’

Hot jersey, but LeBron needs a number

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – LeBron James‘ new Cleveland Cavaliers jersey is flying off the shelves.

Only that’s not completely accurate. For the time being, LeBron jerseys are still kind of on the tarmac, awaiting takeoff.

lebron6The NBA Store’s website and phone lines are ablaze with demand for LeBron goods. The NBA doesn’t release sales figures outside of its regularly scheduled reports, but a league source provided this glimpse into recent demand for all things LBJ: Since James announced his return to Cleveland on July 11, his Cavs replica jerseys (all three color versions: home, road and alternate) are the top three best-selling items on NBAStore.com. Eight of the top 10 items sold overall since then are LeBron Cavs items.

The store initially sold out of all LeBron jerseys, but it’s now restocked in just about every size. The problem: When shoppers buy their LeBron jerseys, they get this message in red type:

“This item will ship within 2-4 weeks after the player has officially signed his contract and is assigned a number by the NBA.”

Ah, yes. LeBron picked his city. But he has yet to pick a number.

Of course, the NBA won’t assign the King a jersey number, like he’s some 7-year-old at the YMCA.

COACH: “Here you go son, got No. 18 for you.”

LeBRON: Hmm … Got 23?

COACH: “I got 18. Youth medium.”

A week ago, James summoned the aid of his 13.75 million Twitter followers:

lebron23James wore 23 during his first seven seasons in Cleveland, the number he picked as a prodigy at Akron, Ohio’s Saint Mary’s-Saint Vincent’s in honor of his hero Michael Jordan. When James took his talents to South Beach in 2010, he ditched 23 for 6, the number he wore in the 2008 Olympics.

Neither number seems like a proper fit for The Return. His first number, 23, still invites all those insufferable comparisons to Jordan. And 6 would just feel weird in Cleveland after all that’s gone down since the original Decision. It should stay in Miami.

With James winding down a Nike-sponsored tour of China, maybe picking a number will soon become top priority. Right behind getting Kevin Love. (For the record, Love wears 42, in honor of the uniquely gifted former NBA star Connie Hawkins. In Cleveland, Nate Thurmond‘s 42 is retired in the rafters.)

All this number talk shouldn’t be shrugged off. A player’s number is a key part of his identity. It typically holds a special meaning.

So we’ve been busy mulling a third number for Phase Three of James’ career. We want his fans to get their jerseys sooner rather than later.

The old flip-flop

32: Obviously it’s the reverse of his original 23, which wasn’t an original at all. James wore No. 32 as a freshman in high school apparently because 23 was already taken by an older kid who didn’t quite yet recognize James as the King. There’s a larger hook here. The player James is most compared to stylistically is not Jordan but Magic Johnson. There’s been a lot of big names to wear 32, which might or might not motivate James to pick the number: Bill WaltonShaquille O’NealKevin McHaleKarl Malone, Julius Erving with the Virginia Squires and New York Nets and one of my personal favorites, Seattle’s “Downtown” Freddie Brown.

The old flip-a-roo

9: Flip the 6 and what do you get? Yep, 9. Makes sense. Plus, James already has done 9, so it makes even more sense. He wore the number for a season as an all-state receiver in high school before giving up football to focus on hoops. Last summer James purchased new Nike uniforms for his alma mater’s football team. For the arrival of the new gear, James actually showed up in full uniform, pads and all, and surprised the gathered crowd. The number he chose for his jersey? Yep, 9. There’s some standout players currently wearing 9; Tony Parker and Rajon Rondo. Old-time great Bob Pettit wore it, too.

Honoring the Big O

14: Forgive me for bringing up Mount Rushmore, but it was LeBron who started the whole thing when he said Oscar Robertson would be on his personal NBA Mount Rushmore (along with Magic, Michael and Larry Bird). LeBron’s game can also be favorably compared to Robertson, the original triple-double machine. Robertson wore 14 with the Cincinnati Royals for a decade. He averaged a triple-double in his second season and darn near did it three other times. Bob Cousy, Sam Perkins and LeBron’s Cavs teammate on the 2007 Finals team, Ira Newble, also wore No. 14. This would be an intriguing choice and would once again shine a worthy spotlight on the Big O’s amazing career.

1: When Cincinnati traded Robertson to the Milwaukee Bucks for Charlie Paulk and Flynn Robinson, the Big O traded in his 14 for 1. LeBron choosing 1 could have dual meaning, paying respect to Robertson while proclaiming to world, “I’m No. 1.” A lot of No. 1s have come and gone in the league, but the list is short in terms of all-time greats. Tiny Archibald wore it before he got to Boston, then there’s Tracy McGrady, Chauncey Billups and, of course, Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks.

King Football

84: It seems every year we hear fantasy stories about LeBron joining an NFL team and instantly becoming an All-Pro receiver. Hey, at 6-foot-9, 260 pounds, who’s gonna get in his way? So why not buck traditional NBA numbers for a traditional NFL one? Since James was an All-State receiver in Ohio (we covered his No. 9 above) it makes sense that he pick a traditional NFL receiver’s number (between 80 and 89 and 10 and 19). My first inclination is to pick 88 because of LeBron’s love for the Dallas Cowboys and the lineage of players — Drew Pearson, Michael Irvin and now Dez Bryant — who made the number famous. Only three NBA players have ever worn 88 and one currently does: Portland forward Nicolas Batum. So, scratch that. If we narrow the numbers to tight ends, the position LeBron would likely play in the NFL, he’d probably choose between two Cowboys greats, No. 84 Jay Novacek and No. 82 Jason Witten. One has more titles than LeBron. Go with Novacek. Only one NBA player, Chris Webber, has ever worn 84 and for only one season (2007 with Detroit). No NBA player has ever put on 82 (according to basketball-reference.com).

Alternatives:

29: It’s the sum of LeBron’s first two numbers, and it’s a pretty rare one in the history of the NBA with Paul Silas being the most famous 29.

33: It’s just a great basketball number worn by such luminaries as Kareem Abdul-Jabber, Bird, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Scottie Pippen and the underappreciated Alvan Adams.

40: This comes with an eye toward some serious goal-setting, as in 40K, as in 40,000 career points. No player has ever reached it. Abdul-Jabbar remains the league’s all-time scoring leader with 38,387 points. James, 29, has scored 23,170 points in 11 seasons. It is doable.

Robertson, Haywood honored as heroes for NBA player-rights fights

CHICAGO – At midnight, when NBA free agency begins anew and unleashes another rush of multi-million dollar contracts, it’s unlikely that any of the current beneficiaries or their agents will take a moment to think about Oscar Robertson.

But that’s OK, because Robertson won’t be thinking of himself, either. Instead, the Hall of Famer and triple-double legend, will have a good thought or two for Curt Flood.

Robertson is the former NBA star and president of the players association whose landmark class-action, anti-trust lawsuit in 1976 paved the way to NBA free agency. Flood was the St. Louis Cardinals outfielder who, six years earlier, tried to take on Major League Baseball’s reserve clause as an individual. His unsuccessful legal fight effectively ended his career and Flood never reaped any benefits from the freedom that came, in MLB’s case, in 1975 with an abitrator’s ruling in the union-backed challenge from pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally.

The courage of both men – back in the day, many considered it to be temerity – comes together Tuesday night when Robertson becomes the inaugural recipient of the Curt Flood Game-Changer Award, presented by the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. That group’s Sports Banquet is part of the annual PUSH Expo that started Saturday and runs through Wednesday.

Also at the banquet, NBA legend Spencer Haywood will receive the “Jackie Robinson Trailblazer Award” for his court challenge in 1970 that led to underclassman-eligibility rights.

Rev. Jesse Jackson, who founded the Chicao-based, multi-racial, progressive organization in 1996, spoke with NBA.com over the weekend about the Robertson’s and Haywood’s honors.

“When Curt Flood filed a lawsuit providing for free agency and the freedom to negotiate in the marketplace, many players hid from their own freedom,” Jackson said. “Oscar Robertson stood up and supported the Curt Flood suit.

“His records have endured – the triple-doubles and the like – and he was a force in the NBA as we know it. Oscar Robertson carried himself with a sense of dignity and character on the floor and beyond the playing courts. … He’s paid a huge price for standing up.”

Flood’s actions pave way for free agency

Robertson has talked previously of the price he feels he has paid in NBA opportunities since his playing days. He has seen contemporaries such as Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Bill Russell, Willis Reed and his old teammate Wayne Embry carve out careers in teams’ front offices, while plenty of others have had enduring roles as broadcast analysts. Robertson lasted just one season on CBS’s national telecasts in 1974-75, his first upon retiring, and believes the league’s owners – the men he and the NBPA sued – blocked him from any continued work.

That pales, in Robertson’s opinion, to the price paid by Flood. The three-time All-Star and perennial Gold Glove winner next to Lou Brock in St. Louis’ outfield balked when he was traded to Philadelphia after the 1969 season. He missed the entire 1970 season while bucking the reserve clause, which bound players “for life” to the clubs that first signed them.

“I do not feel I am a piece of property to be bought and sold,” Flood told then-MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn.

Flood’s lawsuit was heard and rejected three times, ultimately by the Supreme Court in March 1972 by a 5-3 vote. But with the pressure it brought on MLB and the growing strength of the union led by director Marvin Miller, Flood’s case opened the first cracks of player freedom. In fact, in 1973, baseball’s new 10/5 rule (allowing 10-year veterans who had spent five with their current clubs to veto trades) became known as the “Curt Flood Rule.”

Flood’s skills and health, however, eroded in his year out of baseball. His battle with alcohol worsened, some outside business ventures ran afoul of IRS codes – Flood’s top Cardinals salary was $90,000 – and he sagged under racist hate mail and threats not unlike those heaped on Henry Aaron a few years later. (more…)

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 112) Featuring Chris Dortch

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — With the Final Four confetti cleared out of the way and the NBA playoffs just a little over a week away, we decided to spend a little time on what we saw from the college kids and what we might see from them in the future … at least from these college stars who are busy declaring their intentions for the NBA’s June Draft.

The list of early entrants already includes familiar names like Indiana’s Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller, Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams and  Kansas freshman sensation Ben McLemore, among others.

But how many of these college underclassmen are making sound decisions? How many of them are really ready for the rigors that await them in the professional ranks? And are you sure you saw a future NBA sar or two during March Madness?

Michigan’s Trey Burke, the consensus national player of the year, certainly looked the part in the NCAA title game Monday night. And he’s one of four Wolverines who could be headed for the Draft, along with Tim Hardaway Jr. and freshmen Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III.

Chris Dortch, the editor of the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook and NBA.com’s college basketball/Draft expert, joins us to talk about what we saw, who fits where and whether or not they’re making the right choice on Episode 112 of the Hang Time Podcast.

Dortch, who also has a role in the upcoming Jackie Robinson biopic “42” (in theaters Friday, April 12) also compares notes with our resident thespian. And we also discuss the wisdom of Los Angeles Lakers forward Metta World Peace‘s quick return from knee surgery, Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose‘s chances of returning this season from his knee surgery, the Knicks and their hot streak and what happens in the streets of LA if the Lakers miss out on the playoffs?

LISTEN HERE:

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