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Lakers Owner: We Will Retire LeBron’s Number(s)

LeBron James spent a total of 11 seasons with the Cavaliers, who will certainly retire his number. His next-longest tenure has been with the Lakers, with whom he’s about to start his sixth season. Now Lakers owner Jeanie Buss says James’s number — or maybe two numbers — will hang from the rafters when his career is over.

The news came in an interview that Buss did with Sportskeeda. Asked about retiring James’s number, Buss said:

“The standard for having your jersey retired as a Laker is when a player is inducted into the Hall of Fame. I have absolutely no doubt that LeBron will make it into the Basketball Hall of Fame. When he does so, then we will retire his jersey. Knowing that he will make it into the Basketball Hall of Fame, he will have his Lakers jersey retired, no doubt about it.”

But here’s the thing: James has worn two different numbers during his time in L.A. He wore No. 23 for his first three seasons and then switched to No. 6 for his last two. This year, out of respect for Bill Russell, he’s switching back to No. 23. Will the Lakers retire both numbers? Just one? If the latter, which one?

Buss said, “That’s a discussion for another time.”

Only one NBA player has had two numbers retired by the same team — and that team is the Lakers, who have retired Nos. 8 and 24 for Kobe Bryant. (Here’s the team’s full list of retired numbers.)

Getting back to LeBron, he also spent four seasons with the Heat. I’m assuming they’ll retire his number as well — after all, this is a team that has retired No. 23 for Michael Jordan (who never played for them) and No. 13 for Dan Marino (who plays a different sport).

Comments (27)

    I thought the league was retiring number 6 for bill russell. “Out of respect for him” he ought to decline having it retired for himself.

    I thought the league was retiring number 6 for bill russell.

    Yes, but existing No. 6ers were grandfathered.

    “Out of respect for him” he ought to decline having it retired for himself.

    So you feel that Mariano Rivera should have declined having his No. 42 retired, out of respect for Jackie?

    The Mo Rivera example is apples and oranges because Mo didn’t stop wearing 42 at any point out of respect for Jackie. His prerogative, of course, but I think the original comment was mostly about LeBron mirroring the current gesture in his retirement

    He chose the number because of Jackie (as did a number of players). By wearing it he was honoring Jackie. But it was still *his* number. I think him choosing to wear it after it was retired league-wide was (in his mind at least) a way to continue honoring Jackie. But after a career like his, why wouldn’t the Yankees retire the number for him?

    A more detailed explaination of my thoughts: He’s already making a concession by switching from 6 right now, when he doesn’t have to. So it isn’t so far fetched that he continue to respect Russell’s legacy as #6. When James went to Miami, the Heat had already retired 23 out of respect for Jordan’s legacy, so he used #6. For that reason, it makes sense for Miami to retire 6 for James because he only ever played as #6 for them (although 6 is already retired in Miami due to the league-wide retirement, so retiring it in the future for James is basically moot from a logistical standpoint, though it is an honor James deserves from that franchise). James started in LA with 23 and wore the number for 3 years including the year he won the championship. His 2 years as #6 in LA may be better forgotten by James and the Lakers when they look back on his tenure, but being optimistic, going forward he now has a chance to reassert his greatness as a Laker and will do so wearing #23. Given that #6 is already retired in LA because of Russell, doubly retiring it makes little sense when the better years of Lebron’s legacy were (and hopefully WILL be) spent wearing 23, and he clearly is already willing to concede that the number’s legacy belongs with Russell.

    I get your point. I do. I don’t care either way and would be okay whether Lakers retire both number for him or just the 23. That said, had James still won that ring in 2020 while wearing 23 but actually won two more while wearing 6 in 2021-22 and 2022-23 but still switching back to 23 in 2023-24, would you be okay with the Lakers:

    a) retiring 6 for him?
    b) not retiring 6 for him?

    Just hypothetically.

    Not trying to influence your answers and still wish that you would answer a) and b) scenarios anyway before reading this (so stop now and vote first), but in my opinion one case (of several?) FOR the retiring number 6 could be because he broke Kareem’s scoring record while wearing 6, but that might be enough for some but not enough for others. Remember, not all of his points came with the Lakers (Cavs, Heat), but then again not all of Kareem’s points came with the Lakers, either (Bucks). We know that the titles alone would have gotten Kareem’s 33 retired, but ZERO of the points Jordan scored or the titles won were with the Heat and Lakers could similarly honor his time in Miami just as Miami did for MJ, especially when LBJ actually did wear 6 while playing in LA.

    There’s no reply button on your comment, mr Paul Lee, so I’ll respond to you this way.

    It’s hard to dabble in hypotheticals, because one hypothetical factor begets another and another. if lebron threepeated in LA, with the teams he had those years, but was going into this next year with the current roster, he’d be looking at a good chance of 4peating, 2 in #23 and 2 in #6.

    For me it’s a mix of the redundancy of retiring a retired number when there is another very respectable option, and the fact that most of his years (outside of his “best years” in Miami, which I already covered) were spent in 23. That said, I would not be surprised if 23 gets a league wide retirement for Jordan. Which puts an interesting twist on the situation. I don’t personally believe that lebron has earned a league-wide number retirement at any point, though he is an all time great, but assuming Jordan does get a league wide retirement, lebron has no numbers that could be retired without being redundant. Jordan was never a cav, or a laker, and presumably James would be getting team specific number retirements earlier than a Jordan league wide retirement. Therefore retiring James’s 23 for his specific teams (heat aside, who anyway have already retired 6 and 23) offers the higher honor to James, disallowing other players from wearing that number for however many years pass until Jordan’s league wide number retirement (assuming it happens). Then the league can retire 23, for the remaining teams while James still holds the premier honor from his specific teams.

    So to answer your question, I wouldn’t be upset if the lakers DIDN’T retire #6 for lebron, but had he won 2 championships with number 6 (and none afterward) I would begrudgingly understand them retiring #6 (futile though it may be), but would hope that they would then NOT retire #23 for him as well. Had he won 2 in #6 and 2 or more in #23 I would prefer they stick with #23 as it offers more of an honor, with #6 being retired already.

    I’m sure I overexplained myself.

    Nope, you did good. Was able to follow it perfectly. My point about league-wide retirement of Russell’s #6 (for future use), just like it was done for Robinson’s #42 in MLB, is that it honors those special players in a special way, but should not affect specific players and those specific players can (and should be able to) have their numbers retired, e.g., Miami should be allowed to retire number 6, moot or not, just like how Mariano Rivera’s 42 after Robinson’s posthumous league-wide number retirement. In the past (in the NBA but also in different sports, too) a specific player was able to grant others to use their retired number, so Magic Johnson could have let Shaq wear #32 (but he chose to wear #34 instead) and we know that the Jets’ Namath allowed Rodgers to wear #12 had Rodgers wanted to. Bulls retired #23 in 1994, but of course we all know that he came back and chose to wear 45 (at first) instead and was fined for switching to 23 (not because it was retired but probably because of league jersey sales rules). I wonder if Miami would have allowed LeBron to wear 23 with MJ’s blessing? But at this point I don’t think LeBron would or will wear 6 if he went back to play for Miami because of Russell–unless there’s a loophole and his 6 was technically still grandfathered in? Too bad that both in Miami and in LA, LeBron’s #6 has overshadowed Eddie Jones’ #6; Jones was Kobe’s friend and teammate and never won but was popular and well-liked, and interestingly enough also wore 2 numbers with the Lakers (switched from 25 to 6) and missed a championship by just one year (got traded to Charlotte the season before Kobe/Shaq’s first title). Clearly had Miami retired #6 for Jones then LeBron likely would have worn another number and they probably wouldn’t have retired Jones’ #6 while LBJ was still playing (or could/would they?) but it would have interesting to have seen Miami be the first NBA team to retire the same number for 2 different players that wasn’t due to league-wide gestures of respect. (I could be wrong, but I swear I can remember a team in another sport who might have retired a number for 2 different players.)

    Hypotheticals can be fun but can be sad, too, e.g., Len Bias. Also, I did not know this, but after MLB retired 42 in 1997, only 2 players have had their 42 retired: Rivera and just one other player.


    Gotta say I wish the Yankees would get less guff for our retired numbers when the Heat are doing whatever the heck that is.

    Also, #6 is being retired leaguewide right? So why not retire it for Lebron since nobody else will wear it anyway

    “I wish the Yankees would get less guff for our retired numbers when the Heat are doing whatever the heck that is”

    What the Heat are doing should have no bearing on the Yankees. You both deserve guff.

    A basketball team has no more than 15 players on its roster. Baseball teams have dozens and dozens of numbered players and personnel. It’s not even close to the same.

    But as Phil says, both deserve guff.

    I think you are right about the Yankeess. In a couple of years, they may run out of numbers and have to resort to triple digits or those strange position/number combo that LSU briefly experimented with decades ago.

    Easy: for one, LeBron hasn’t retired from playing yet so waiting for him to completely retire from playing pro basketball before retiring his number in Miami. Also, it’s one thing to give a player the farewell treatment in their final season like with Kobe or Kareem, it’d be another to hold a ceremony to retire their number while your team is playing against them that night (or later that season, possibly even in the playoffs). Imagine if LeBron chose 6 instead of 23 when he first joined the Lakers anf then wore it in 2020 when Lakers played Miami in the Finals after Miami retired LeBron’s #6. Granted they were playing in “the bubble” in Orlando and technically more Magic than Heat home territory, but it’s still Florida and would be even more awkward, in my opinion. Plus, and I thought about this on another thread, maybe if Miami does somehow end up drafting Bronny James and LeBron follows through and rejoins Miami to play with his son, not having his #6 retired might be a loophole that the team/league/Russell’s family would allow to exploit since it could be argued that LeBron’s #6 was still grandfathered in (or not).

    So every player who plays for the Lakers and enters the HOF gets their number retired? That makes no sense. Then why isn’t Karl Malone’s #11 with the Lakers retired? Or Gary Payton’s #20?

    Sorry, Lebron’s number shouldn’t be retired with the Lakers.

    That was SOP for the Phillies until they retired Dick Allen’s #15…BTW, he should be in the HOF.
    Even though they spent the majority of their careers elsewhere, Halladay (3 yrs) and Bunning (6 yrs) were so honored as well.

    But it wasn’t SOP! Richie Ashburn’s #1 was retired before I went to my first game at the Vet (July 1980). He didn’t make the HoF for nearly 20 years beyond that. Retiring Bunning’s #14 always felt like a sly dodge because it was also Pete Rose’s number.

    LeBron has played multiple seasons in LA and won a title. Jeannie Buss explained it poorly, but that’s the difference.

    Also it’s her team so she can choose to do it whether a player deserves it or not or not do it whether a player deserves it or not. It’s just a gesture and not the law and it’s their prerogative. If you owned your own team then you too can make up your own rules and break them as you see fit. Heck, you can even retire #23 and number #23.6 (yes, a decimal) if you ran the team because you feel like it and now no one can wear 23.6 ever again for the Lakers…unless, say, LeBron’s kid or Wenbanyama wanted to and the league approved it.

    Hi Phil,

    Do you have a source that Mariano Rivera deliberately “chose (42) because of Jackie”? I know that former MLBers Mo Vaughn and Lenny Webster did, but I have never seen this written about Rivera.

    Also, Joel Ward of the NHL definitely wore 42 for Jackie.



    I’d always heard this, and a quick google search turns up several articles about how Rivera was motivated to honor Jackie by wearing his 42. I would need to delve deeper to find (or not find) an actual quote from him saying he wore it specifically to honor JRR, but I believe this to be the case.


    Unsure whether he chose 42 but this Newsweek article stated that he was orinally assigned #58 by the Yankees though he never appeared in a single game with that number.


    The Heat have NOT retired 13 for Marino, rather it’s “honored” (Bam Adebayo wears it).
    23 however is retired.

    I find it ridiculous that certain teams allow outside organizations (e.g. Baseball HOF, Basketball HOF) to decide who get their number retired.

    It’s the teams who are deciding. It’s just that their criteria include induction to the respective HOF. Some teams (the Mets until recently, for example) would only retire a player number if said player 1) went into the HOF and 2) “wore” a Mets cap at enshrinement. So, Seaver and Piazza, retired. Carter, a HOFer (in an Expos cap), not retired. That’s changed now under Uncle Stevie, but previously that was their standard.

    Each team sets its own criteria. You may not like it or agree with making number retirement contingent on a player getting into the HOF, but it’s still team policy.

    Agreed 100%. And to add to that, if any team no longer feels like policy made sense or wish to break tradition, they can do that, too. Let’s say that they found out that, HYPOTHETICALLY, Babe Ruth was a serial killer, Hank Aaron used PEDs since day one, or Nolan Ryan was an actual extraterrestial player from a different galaxy, would it be okay to vacate their retired numbers? Would you be okay if they refused to unretire their numbers? As silly as baseball HOF/MVP votes can be based on justified or unjustified biasses, or how many more players/numbers would/could have been retired had there not been segregation in society and/or in the sport, it is all just ways for us to be generous or to be snobs in approving a retired number or in snubbing one, respectively. Just my 2 cents.

    They should retire Lebron’s name leaguewide instead of any number when he stops playing. Now that would be a first. No more Lebrons in this league from now on! A banner with the name Lebron in every team’s rafters! He will love it, I am sure. Nike will sponsor these banners, I am also sure.

    It comes as no surprise that Jeanie Buss has confirmed LeBron James will have his Lakers jersey retired someday. As the NBA’s all-time leading scorer and a surefire Hall of Famer, LeBron’s legendary career more than warrants being honored alongside Laker greats when he retires. His 2020 championship and individual brilliance have cemented his Lakers legacy in just a few short years.

    While he’ll almost certainly have his jersey retired by the Heat and Cavs too, there’s something special about seeing those iconic purple and gold numbers raised to the rafters in Arena. Just like Kareem, Magic and Kobe before him, LeBron’s Lakers glory will live on forever once he hangs it up. It’s only a matter of time before #6 is up there alongside the other Laker legends who redefined the game.

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