Orlando Magic do not have to retire anyone’s jersey

Shaquille O'Neal was inducted into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame on Friday, March 27, 2015. Photo by Philip Rossman-Reich, Orlando Magic Daily
Shaquille O'Neal was inducted into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame on Friday, March 27, 2015. Photo by Philip Rossman-Reich, Orlando Magic Daily /

The Orlando Magic got some playful criticism for not retiring Shaquille O’Neal‘s jersey. They do not have to retire any jerseys if they do not want to.

The tradition with a team’s legends is pretty well set throughout the league. There is almost a decorum for the way these things go.

Player retires. Team waits a few years — in the case of truly great players they do it the first year after retirement — and then print up a banner, raise it to the rafters for posterity and bring the legend back in for a ceremony, speech or some other recognition for the fans.

That is the process around the league. NBA teams do it over and over and over.

Every team in the league except for the L.A. Clippers and Toronto Raptors have at least one jersey hanging in the rafters. The Orlando Magic have one — No. 6 for the fans — but no players, joining that list too.

Orlando has done its own thing with its players. In 2014, during the Magic’s 25th anniversary season, the team announced it would create a team hall of fame to honor the team’s legends. That would, maybe, one day be in addition to retiring jerseys.

To say the least, the rest of the league thinks this is kind of weird.

The Miami Heat unexpectedly decided to retire Shaquille O’Neal’s jersey. Their ceremony was held Thursday. The decision was the Heat’s own — he played only four seasons in Miami, the same as Orlando, and won a title — but it came with plenty of shade thrown at the Magic.

Specifically from the national media and O’Neal’s current employers, TNT. In the late afternoon, the company tweeted this tongue-in-cheek statement at the Orlando Magic’s official twitter account:

Then during the TNT broadcast of the Heat’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers, with Shaquille O’Neal in the booth, Reggie Miller called out the Magic for not retiring O’Neal’s jersey yet. He said the Magic were “slacking horribly” and not retiring O’Neal’s jersey was a bigger sign of how the team is “cursed” when it comes to its stars.

There is, of course, one problem with this narrative.

The Magic did honor O’Neal. His jersey is hanging in the Amway Center. Just not in the main arena bowl and not as a “retired jersey.”

In 2015, as part of the second class of the Magic’s Hall of Fame, the team invited O’Neal back to be honored as a member of the team’s hall of fame. O’Neal met with the media — the video is shown in the 30 for 30 documentary This Magic Moment — and was introduced to the Amway Center crowd to (mostly) cheers.

This is the way Orlando has chosen to honor its legends. It is different, for sure. Maybe O’Neal is a bit perturbed his jersey is not retired — as a member of the Magic’s Mt. Rushmore, he certainly has a good case if the Magic were ever to retire jerseys. But this is the way Orlando does things. At least for now.

In introducing the Hall of Fame three years ago — Nick Anderson, Pat Williams and owner Rich DeVos have joined O’Neal in the Hall of Fame on the Amway Center’s terrace level — Magic CEO Alex Martins said the team thought about retiring jerseys. He said the team’s officials discussed criteria for retiring a jersey and no one had met the criteria they agreed upon. He has never divulged these criteria. It is widely assumed winning a championship is the first prerequisite for, at least, the first retired jersey.

It also probably does not hurt to have a star player leave the Magic on good terms. That could be a start too. Some Magic fans are still a bit peeved the Magic honored O’Neal in the way they did. The fan base may not have embraced a full jersey retirement for O’Neal.

Orlando has chosen a different way to honor its legends. It may be confusing to others used to a certain way of doing things.

Objectively, the Magic should have O’Neal’s No. 32 hanging in the rafters. Right next to Anfernee Hardaway‘s No. 1 (probably the next player to get inducted into the Magic Hall of Fame, whenever he wants to return to Orlando), Tracy McGrady‘s No. 1 and, after he retires, Dwight Howard‘s No. 12. Nick Anderson’s No. 25 should also be hanging at the Amway Center. And a decent argument can be made for fan-favorite Darrell Armstrong and his No. 10.

Perhaps the Magic saw this, you can see how quickly down the rabbit hole you can go. If you retire Darrell Armstrong, why not Scott Skiles (do not answer that, the reason is obvious after this summer)? Why not Rashard Lewis? Or Jameer Nelson?

Now the team has eight jerseys to retire. And it is not entirely universally agreed they all deserve them.

The Magic perhaps saw this problem and opted to make it really hard to receive this highest honor. They chose a different way to honor their legends. And this is completely acceptable and reasonable too.

Whenever an organization goes against norms, there is a backlash. Or at least puzzled looks.

Related Story: Shaquille O'Neal: Orlando will always mean a lot to me

Maybe these players are upset the Magic do not honor them in this very formal and normalized way.  If they are, perhaps the Magic need to reconsider the criteria and bite the bullet and retire a jersey for the true pillars of the franchise — that Mt. Rushmore of O’Neal, Hardaway, McGrady and Howard with Anderson receiving special consideration.

Until then, what the Magic do to honor their history is more than fine. They do not have to retire anyone’s jersey to appreciate what they have done for the franchise and give them recognition for the fans. They have a way of doing that already.

One day when they do retire a player’s jersey, the team can measure these players against that first honoree and make a decision. Clearly they are reserving this honor for someone who truly transforms the franchise both on and off the court for a long time.

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O’Neal is certainly worthy of the honor when the Magic decide to go through with it. But they do not have to yet.