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Retired NBA Jerseys: Top Honored NBA Jerseys

Publish Date: 31.05.2024
Fact checked by: Emily Carter

There are many accolades in the NBA, but one of the most elusive is a retired jersey. Getting an in-season award, ring, or hall of fame bid are all incredibly impressive, but only a few special players or personnel have ever received a retired basketball jersey.

When that happens to athletes, it means the number that player wore during their time with the team can no longer be worn by anyone else. Some non-players also have retired jerseys that no player can wear in the future, even if that person didn’t actually play on the court.

It takes a lot for a team to retire someone’s jersey. The move is permanent, which is why it’s rarely done. However, there are a few in each organization who earned the honor by going above and beyond the call of duty.

Notable Retired Jerseys

There are nearly 200 retired basketball jerseys in the NBA. That’s not a lot relative to everyone to ever play, and it shows how everyone with a retired jersey is special in some way. However, even among those big names there are a few who stand out.

The most notable retired jerseys in the NBA come from the biggest players of all time. Michael Jordan’s 23 is retired by the Bulls, for instance, while Kobe has his numbers retired by the Lakers. Bill Russell, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, and John Stockton make the list as well.

Almost all of the biggest players to step on the court from every era have their jersey retired by their franchise. The NBA is a popular league, but it’s built on legends. Every one, from Jerry West to Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Oscar Roberson are immortalized through the process.

If there’s a player who every fan knows in some capacity, or if there’s someone everyone can name regardless of the era in which they played, there’s a good chance they have their jersey hanging in their stadium’s rafters.

Unique Cases of Jersey Retirement

Most of the time, players get their jerseys retired due to their incredible play. They excel on the court, succeed at an extremely high level, and often bring in at least one ring. That being said, it’s not always the case. There are many jerseys retired for other reasons.

Coaches, owners, and announcers can have their jerseys retired too. For example, P.A announcer Dav Zinkoff has a retired jersey for his time with the Philadelphia 76ers, and ex-owner Ted Turner has a number 17 jersey retired by the Atlanta Hawks.

There are quite a few broadcasters who also have retired jerseys, including Joe Tait (Cavaliers), Bill Schonely (Trail Blazers), Don Poier (Grizzlies), and Johnny Most (Celtics). In fact, 20 announcers in total have retired jerseys around the league.

In some special cases, players who truly go above and beyond can have their jerseys retired in unique ways. For example, Kobe Bryant is the only player in history to have both of his numbers (8 and 24) retired by the same team.

In addition, the Knicks and Trail Blazers are the only two teams to have a single number retired for two different people. The Knicks have 15 set aside for both Earl Monroe and Dick McGuire, while the Blazers retired 30 for both Bob Gross and Terry Porter.

There are also cases where a player excelled on multiple teams, which then caused their numbers to be retired by multiple franchises. There are a few notable cases of that phenomenon, but two of the biggest are Jerry Sloan and Nate Thurmond.

There are also three players who have their jersey retired by three teams. Pete Maravich has his number retired by the Hawks, Jazz, and Pelicans, Shaquille O’Neal’s is retired by the Heat, Magic, and Lakers and Wilt Chamberlain’s number is retired by the Lakers, 76ers, and Warriors.

Uniquely, Michael Jordan, Pete Maravich, and Bill Russell have their jerseys retired by teams they were never on. Jordan’s number is retired by the Heat due to his sheer legacy, and Maravich’s number is retired by the Pelicans due to his connections to New Orleans.

After Bill Russell’s death, the league decided to retire his number 6 league-wide in order to honor his contributions to basketball. That makes him the only player to have his number retired by every single franchise, which is the greatest honor the league can give.

History and Criteria for Jersey Retirement

As the above section shows, there is no one reason someone gets a retired number or jersey. Everyone who has their number in a team’s rafters earned it, but they all earned it in different ways. Most of the time, however, it’s through play.

The most common reason players get their jersey or number retired is through contributions to their franchise. They played extremely well, usually a hall of fame career, and either earned multiple accolades, became essential to the NBA, or won multiple rings.

Players who bring the first championship to a franchise typically get their number retired by that franchise. That also goes for players who lead teams through important events in their team’s history, such as making scoring titles or breaking in-team records.

Those who aren’t players typically get their number retired as a respect for extended or long service to the team. Announcers who become iconic due to long tenures, as well as those who become famous with opposing fan bases, typically get retired jerseys.

Successful coaches, as well as those widely respected by their team, have their numbers retired too. There aren’t too many who have received the honor, but the ones that did undoubtedly made a huge impact on the franchises.

As shown through Bill Russell above, there are certain players who have their number retired for extraneous circumstances. Sometimes a player’s untimely or unexpected death can lead the team to retire a number in their honor.

Other times, franchises can retire jerseys as a way to pay homage to someone who goes beyond their team. That’s why Pete Maravich’s jersey is retired in New Orleans, and why Dan Marino has his number retired by the Heat despite never having played basketball.

It’s not just about what someone did in the NBA. It’s the best way a franchise can put the spotlight on someone and thank them for their contribution, honor their legacy, or simply help keep them immortalized in history.

Do Retired NBA Players Get a Pension?

Retiring from the NBA is not an easy decision, even for the greatest players of all time. Getting a retired jersey is a huge honor and great way to go out, but even better for many long-time players is that they earn a pension after they step away from the game.

That pension plan, which has been in place since 1965, allows any athlete who played in the league for at least 3 years to receive lifetime benefits. That includes healthcare coverage, college-tuition reimbursement, and payment.

The system pays out a base of more than $800 a month per year an athlete played in the league. It can start as early as 45 years old, but under that structure it pays out a bit less to make up for the fact that players will get more money over a longer period of time.

The high-end of the pension can pay out more than $200,000 a year, with the minimum sitting around $56,988 a year. That combination means that everyone is taken care of in some capacity, whether they did enough to earn a retired jersey or not.

Conclusion

There are many ways NBA teams honor their greatest players, but few are more symbolic than retired basketball jerseys. The league has a long history, and has undergone more shifts and eras than any other professional sports organization.

Being able to track the different athletes who characterized those eras and brought them to life is a great way to connect current fans to past players. It helps keep them immortalized and reinforces their legacy in a way where they will never be forgotten.

Even if a fan isn’t aware of who someone is, they can always look them up after seeing their jersey in a stadium. Without the process, or if jerseys only pertained to just players, there are many who would simply fade into history.

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