Posts Tagged ‘michael irvin’

Hot jersey, but LeBron needs a number

By Jeff Caplan,

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 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


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.

Still No Love For Kobe In Philly

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Kobe Bryant is just 24 points shy of passing Shaquille O’Neal for fifth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

Fifth all-time!

That he could reach that milestone a short train ride away from where he cut his teeth as a high school basketball star would seem like the ideal way for things to play out tonight when Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers face the Philadelphia 76ers, except for that little issue the city of Philadelphia has with one of its greatest exports.

Bryant is loathed by sports fans in the city. So if he does pass O’Neal tonight, don’t expect a fireworks show or a standing ovation for the pride of Lower Merion High. Because, as Philadelphia Daily News columnist John Smallwood, no one wears the black hat in Philadelphia better than Bryant:

He is unquestionably one of the most despised athletes in Philadelphia history.

Just last week, Bryant was ranked at No. 2 in the Comcast SportsNet series of the Top 20 All-Time Philadelphia Villains. Only the Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s, with Jerry Jones, Jimmy Johnson, Michael Irvin and Troy Aikman, topped him.

Listen to sports talk radio today and don’t be surprised if venom spewed about Bryant generates more air time than the results of Super Bowl XVLI.

That’s just the way it’s been between Philadelphia and Bryant.

If you’ve ever wondered where that chip on Bryant’s shoulder comes from, just take a look at the peculiar relationship he has with his hometown and it might make sense to you.

Bryant left for Italy, where his father was a pro star, when he was just 6. He returned for high school, though, and that’s easily the most crucial time for a budding star to bond with the hometown fans. But he had more doubters as a 17-year-old declaring for the draft than he had supporters.

(If only they knew the things he would do in his career …)

The relationship never healed. Bryant helped the Lakers to that 2001 NBA title over the Allen Iverson-led Sixers, a title clinched on hometown soil, and then there was that nasty incident at the 2002 All-Star Game when he was booed after winning MVP honors.

If the Sixers keep him from getting loose tonight this whole story moves on the next stop and the dynamics change completely. But he’s had just four games all season where he didn’t score at least 24 points and he’s averaging 29.4 points per game … like we said, it’s going to be interesting to see what sort of reaction the folks at the Wells Fargo Center have tonight if Bryant has just an average night before the hometown fans.

Boos are fuel for Heat

PHILADELPHIA — They boo pretty harshly here in this city, and they treat the visiting teams even worse. Yes, Philly is notorious on players because everyone gets booed. Well, except one time, when a vicious hit nearly paralyzed Michael Irvin at the old Vet Stadium. Then there were cheers.

“They have a reputation,” said Chris Bosh.

But what Philly fans have discovered is LeBron James and company have been there, done that and definitely heard this and that. The Heat have a name for the hospitable (emphasis on “spit”) reception they get: fuel for thought. They channel all the hate on the road into positive energy, which of course only encourages more hate.

The road treatment Miami has received all season, which unofficially ranks as the harshest all-time in the NBA, prepared Miami for anything they may see in the post-season. What was once deemed a distraction by the Heat back in November and December has actually hardened them for the intensity of the playoffs. So something good did come from that profanity-filled first road game in Cleveland. And New York. And Boston. And … you get the idea.

If they indeed feed off it, as LeBron has said countless times, that makes them gluttons for punishment.

“It has brought us together as a team,” he said. “It’s made us tougher and more determined, when we’re on the road. We always expect the worst, so therefore we’re ready for the worst.”

At 28-13, the Heat tied the Mavericks for the best road record in the regular season. And the pressure is only intensified here in the playoffs, which of course didn’t affect LeBron and especially Wade in the fourth quarter of Game 3, when Miami pulled away at the Wells Fargo Center.

At this point, with the Heat up 3-0 on the Sixers, the fans at Wells Fargo probably won’t even bother wasting their breath for Game 4. The real test will come in the next round, should the Heat as expected play in Boston. Emotions will run high in that one, because the Celtics handled Miami fairly easily in the regular season, and because the Heat are the biggest threat to the defending East champs. Oh, and they hate LeBron in Boston, too. We should mention that.

“It’s nothing new to us,” said coach Erik Spoelstra.

A series with Boston could put an even hotter glare on LeBron, though, given how meekly and suspiciously he played last spring against the Celtics. He has demonstrated an ability to take it all in stride, even exchanging barbs with fans in Philly at one point. Of all the Heat players, LeBron takes the most abusive by far. And yet, by now you might say he “eats” well on the road, which is a feeding frenzy for him.