With it being Jackie Robinson Day in Major League Baseball, that got us thinking: Which former college athletes should have their jersey number retired across their sport at the collegiate level?
Jonathan Bass – College Basketball, No. 33
The kneejerk here was to go with No. 23, but after going down a wormhole of college basketball jerseys the number that should be retired is No. 33 in college basketball. Consider the following:
Lew Alcindor was arguably the most dominant player in the sport’s history, anchoring the UCLA dynasty, winning three titles and two player of the year awards. For God’s sake, the dunk was banned because of the man. Alcindor, along with John Wooden and Bill Walton, is the face of UCLA basketball even a half century later.
Then there’s Larry Bird and Magic Johnson (the latter switched to 32 in the NBA). There may be no more important duo in the sport’s history – both in college and the professional ranks. They played in the 1979 title game, the most watched college basketball game ever, which was a contest that ushered in the sport’s modern era. Bird and Johnson also boast national player of the year and NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player awards, respectively.
Or how about Patrick Ewing, who went to three consecutive NCAA title games, won one championship and claimed a national player of the year.
What about Shaq at LSU. Or Antawn Jamison at UNC. And Grant Hill at Duke. And probably a half dozen other guys whom I’m forgetting.
When it comes to the hierarchy of numbers in college athletics, No. 33 in college basketball should be hung up in the rafters of every arena and permanently retired. It is the pinnacle.
Brian Stultz – College Football, No. 34
Can it be two guys with the same number? Is that cool? Awesome, then I am going with the No. 34 in college football due to the fact that both Herschel Walker and Bo Jackson wore it.
How many times do you hear, “Oh, he’s the next Bo?” or “He reminds me of Herschel” about a new running back? Exactly. Let’s take 34 off the board that way no one can tarnish it.
My runner-up is the No. 32 because of O.J. Simpson because, well, you know. (Wink, wink!)
Jeff Bartl – College Basketball, No. 23
The No. 23 in college basketball. And not because of Michael Jordan. Pete Maravich arguably is the greatest college basketball player in the sport’s history and donned the digits while starring at LSU from 1967-70. He’s still the Division I all-time leading scoring with 3,667 points, good for a career average of 44.2 per game. Oh, and get this – Maravich did all that in only three seasons because freshmen weren’t allowed to play varsity during that era. And without a 3-point line.
Maravich averaged 43.8 points as a sophomore, 44.2 as a junior and 44.5 his senior season. Those are the three highest single-season averages in college basketball history. Also, the next time you see someone dribble through their legs, throw a behind-the-back or no-look pass, you can thank Maravich. “Pistol Pete” began showing flash when flash was shunned throughout the sport – college or pro.
Maravich was ahead of his time and transcended college basketball. He deserves this honor.
Kurt Schwerman – College Basketball, No. 23
Unlike my colleague Jeff, I am going with the number 23 because of the G.O.A.T., Michael Jordan. And before any of you jump on me, just hear me out. No, Jordan wasn’t the greatest college basketball player to ever play the game. He was good and earned himself a top three draft pick in the ‘84 NBA Draft, but he wasn’t the legend that he later became with the Bulls. Michael’s number 23 should be retired throughout college basketball because of the impact that he has ultimately had on the sport.
Before he entered the NBA, the league was exciting and popular, but it went to unprecedented levels once he became a star with Chicago. He did things that no one had ever seen done before, while winning six NBA championships in an eight year span. He became the face of the game, the Babe Ruth of basketball. He is the reason so many young kids took up the game of basketball, and he is the reason the sport grew to become one of the most popular sports on the planet. Not many current or former athletes can say that they’ve had the same global impact on a sport.
So all of that, coupled with his close affiliation with his alma mater, North Carolina, and the fact that the NBA doesn’t appear to be anxious to retire his number is why 23 should be retired throughout college basketball in honor of Michael Jordan.