Just over a month ago, the New Orleans Pelicans hosted the Los Angeles Clippers for the first of two times this season. On that day, a claim was made that the Pelicans would eventually retire Chris Paul’s jersey. For their second visit, I claim the opposite.
To be fair, I’m not going to sit around and pick the support for the claim apart line-by-line. I’m just going to address the bones of the argument that I recall, then add in some more info on both sides of the issue.
The basics of the argument were:
- Chris Paul was a great player in New Orleans
- Chris Paul was central to the franchise remaining in New Orleans
The first point is true, but when it is time to consider retirement of Paul’s jersey anywhere, Anthony Davis will likely have put those great seasons, of which there were really only 3 plus an injury-shortened one, mind you, in his shadow. For a franchise that has not retired any jersey on the basis of greatness of play for the franchise to retire a jersey on the basis of 6 seasons with the franchise, 4 seasons in the city, and 0 seasons under current ownership seems like a reach or an act of desperation. Add to that weak case that Chris Paul refused to sign an extension with the franchise after 6 years, leading to his being traded to his current team, and it does not get any prettier for the jersey retirement argument.
As for the centrality argument, even if we buy this without dispute, he was long gone when Benson bought the franchise. The team sold more season tickets during the lockout then when he was actually contributing. During this sales run, the organization could not mention any player’s name and it was common knowledge that Chris had played his last game under contract with the New Orleans franchise. He laid some groundwork with the fans, but he was nowhere to be found in crunch time. He was a role player in the fight to keep the franchise in New Orleans, and a reluctant one at that. He was far from the MVP. I have no doubt that he has affection for the city, but is far from a rare quality. No one should get a cookie for loving New Orleans. They should just get a visit to the head-shrinker if they don’t . . .
I do not see the on-the-court or off-the-court arguments working apart or together.
Chris Paul gave us all great memories, but his contributions . . . both positive and negative . . . . taken together or apart . . . do not merit jersey retirement.
For kicks, however, let’s look at if something like this has ever been done . . . let’s look for some independent justification whichever stance. Of course, each situation is unique, but this is all we can do at this point to find some reason to retire that jersey.
Looking around the NBA, there a number of non-traditional jersey retirements. The Hornets had 2, in fact. Bobby Phills, following his death while a member of the team (auto accident), and “Pistol” Pete Maravich. Phills, a Baton Rouge native, had his jersey retired in Charlotte, and it followed the team when it relocated to New Orleans. Maravich, a Pennsylvania native, went to LSU and played for the New Orleans Jazz for all 5 seasons they were in New Orleans (plus part of one in Utah), had his jersey retired on opening night in 2002 . . . against the Jazz. While Pete never played for the Hornets, he did play in New Orleans, is a Hall-of-Famer, personified Louisiana basketball for at least 9 years (Tigers, Jazz), and changed the game of basketball on the professional and amateur levels. Phills’ jersey retirement was an in memoriam, and I will simply that down as an exception and move on.
Following down the Pistol trail a little, the Heat actually have two jerseys retired for player with dubious direct contributions to the franchise: Michael Jordan and Dan Marino. Wayne Gretzky and Jackie Robinson had their numbers retired league-wide (in their leagues). Does Chris Paul stack up with these players in terms of greatness and longevity with a franchise? I think not.
NBA teams have retired jerseys for owners, trainers, staff, coaches, and the fans. Other teams have none (Bobcats, Clippers, Grizzlies, Raptors . . . who knows what will happen with the Bobcats-Hornets change).
Greatness, longevity, loyalty . . . these are what get your jersey retired. You need to have the right combination of these. The greater you are, the less loyal you have to be and for less time. And so on. I’m sorry, but Chris just does not have the right combination of factors.
I suppose I left out one other reason to get a jersey retired: Pandering.
Let’s stop focusing on the cheap and easy ways to get attention and start honoring what has gone unnoticed but has meant so much more. It will only take a little effort, but it will be worth it and then some. The Pelicans can focus on some of the legitimate basketball history of Louisiana. They can retire jerseys, but there are a number of other ways to get the message out that basketball owes a great deal to Louisiana, and likely more than most realize.
Good memories, yes. Jersey retired, no.
Honor the real history, including the history about to be made.