Orlando Magic have plenty of jerseys to retire… when they are ready

The Orlando Magic's original home uniforms may be among the most iconic designs in NBA history. (Mandatory Credit: Andy Lyons /Allsport)
The Orlando Magic's original home uniforms may be among the most iconic designs in NBA history. (Mandatory Credit: Andy Lyons /Allsport) /

The NBA and NBPA followed the advice of several NBA luminaries and alumni on Thursday deciding to retire the No. 6 throughout the league in honor of Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell.

The honor is as much for the excellence Russell showed on the court as it is for the humanity and bravery he showed off it. He was as vocal and active as any athlete in the pursuit of civil rights in the United States as anyone. Every player no matter their creed is walking the path that Russell cut when he played.

Russell will be the first player in NBA history to have his number formally retired throughout the league, following what MLB did in retiring Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 throughout its league to celebrate the Civil Rights pioneer and Baseball Hall of Famer.

This coming season, every jersey will have a commemorative patch honoring Russell and each court will also bear an insignia honoring Russell.

It is not clear yet whether each team will also hang the No. 6 from their rafters. A few teams, most notably the Miami Heat with Michael Jordan’s No. 23 and Dan Marino’s No. 13, have jerseys from other teams retired in their buildings, but it is exceptionally rare.

The Magic have had only one player in their history wear the No. 6. In fact, the No. 6 jersey was retired in honor of “The Fans” back in 1990. Patrick Ewing had the jersey unretired when his traditional No. 33 was taken by Grant Hill when he arrived on the team for the 2002 season.

Retiring jerseys has remained a point of contention for the Magic, fans and alumni.

The NBA is retiring Bill Russell’s No. 6 jersey leaguewide. The Orlando Magic have yet to retire their own players’ jerseys. When they are ready, they already have readymade options. And it is something they should do.

Magic CEO Alex Martins has said repeatedly the organization does have criteria for retiring jerseys and that no player had reached them yet. It is widely assumed that the first requirement is helping the team win a title.

From what I understand about the Magic’s internal deliberations about retiring jerseys and the Hall of Fame that loosening the standards for jersey retirement is something that does come up.

The Magic are not bound to retire jerseys. Just because it is a trend around the league (or universally around the league) does not mean the team has to follow. But it can be a sore spot for alumni, especially those who have had their jerseys retired with other teams.

Honoring history

The Orlando Magic have not always had a great relationship with its alumni. This is something the team has done a better job with in recent years — even something as small as recognizing alumni on the JumboTron when they go to games has been a nice touch.

The team’s Orlando Magic Hall of Fame has also been a good step to recognize individuals in Magic history. And certainly to recognize contributors who do not rise to the level of jersey retirement.

The team created the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame as a way to honor their history more formally during the 25th anniversary season. It has been an important and solid first step to making sure the Magic’s history remains present for fans — both new and old. And placing it in the Terrace Level of Amway Center inside the Magic Fan History that displays other parts of Magic history was a good decision.

The members of the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame are obvious — Nick Anderson, Pat Williams, Shaquille O’Neal, Rich DeVos, Penny Hardaway, Jimmy Hewitt, Tracy McGrady, David Steele, John Gabriel and Brian Hill. The missing players are also self-evident (and worthy of a separate post). Sorting out the order in which those missing players should enter is the bigger question.

It still does not feel like it is ever-present though. It is easy to miss this important tribute to the team’s history. And that is where retiring jerseys is different and more meaningful. It is a constant and consistent reminder in the arena bowl of the team’s history.

Especially as history begins to recede. The people who watched the 1995 Finals run as children are now old enough to have children of their own. We are at a point where we are a generation removed from key members of the Magic’s early history. There is certainly a chance this early history could get forgotten.

Or, perhaps worse, distorted by national views.

The guys who should have their jerseys retired immediately when the Magic decide to start retiring jerseys are fairly self-evident:

Retire their jerseys yesterday

Shaquille O’Neal – No. 32

Shaquille O’Neal is a Hall of Famer who made the Orlando Magic franchise a championship contender. In many respects, the franchise is still chasing the high of his four seasons in a Magic uniform.

O’Neal is still the most dominant force the franchise has ever seen and a franchise-defining player.

It is even to the point that O’Neal’s Magic tenure has become mythologized. He was such a different and dynamic player in Orlando compared to his time in Los Angeles when he become a bruising hulk.

Anfernee Hardaway – No. 1

It would be impossible to put Shaquille O’Neal’s number in the rafters without his running partner in Anfernee Hardaway.

Hardaway’s spark was relatively brief as injuries knocked him out later in his career. But he was a two-time first-team All-NBA player and redefined the point guard position. He would have been a Hall of Famer if not for injuries that sapped him of much of his athleticism.

Hardaway is a true Magic original as a draft pick as he had no major impact anywhere else in his career. And he is on the Mt. Rushmore of Magic history — someone who still trades well for the Lil’ Penny commercials and YouTube highlights as younger generations keep his memory alive.

Hanging Hardaway’s No. 1 in the Amway Center would ensure everyone still remembers him and he does not get lost to history.

Tracy McGrady – No. 1

Tracy McGrady had a stellar four-year run and is the best scorer in Orlando Magic history. He also is likely the first player to reach the Hall of Fame based on his tenure with the Orlando Magic (perhaps sharing time with the Houston Rockets, but his peak was in Orlando).

McGrady is also a local hero having grown up in Auburndale. Not to mention he was the first superstar player to choose Orlando as a free agent, using his time in Orlando to cement his star legacy after leaving Vince Carter’s shadow in Toronto.

Dwight Howard – No. 12

Dwight Howard’s playing career is almost over. And while there was a bitter divorce that occurred 10 years ago, Howard’s playing home is still in Orlando. He was still the best player on a Finals team and took the Magic to unprecedented heights, changing the entire NBA in the process.

Howard will be a Hall of Famer five years after he retires. While Howard seems contemplative about his legacy, it is clear in Orlando his legacy is secured. And he would be an easy choice for jersey retirement.

These four players represent the team’s Mt. Rushmore at the moment. And there is no doubt that all four should have their jerseys retired once the team elects to do it.

There are arguments that can and should be had about retiring jerseys for players like Jameer Nelson, Darrell Armstrong, Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu. Those players do not have the national relevance that the above players have but they hold a lot of sentimental value for the franchise.

This is where the presence of the Magic’s Hall of Fame helps keep retiring jerseys for the elite of the elite. All four of those players are clear additions to the team’s Hall of Fame. Entry into that stage should be fairly expansive. Jersey retirement should be exclusive. And so those four players probably do not rise to that exclusive club.

Keeping the memory alive

But the reason the Orlando Magic need to retire jerseys is to keep the memory of key players alive.

And that is why it is Nick Anderson’s No. 25 that should be the first jersey retired and the most important one to retire.

Anderson was the original member of the Magic and a key player on the team’s early squads and the group that went to the Finals in 1995. He defined the team for the first decade of the franchise’s history.

Magic fans should remember Anderson for that and for the steal on Michael Jordan in the 1995 second round. He defined the franchise — and continues to do so as a community ambassador.

But there are increasingly fewer people who saw him play. And national fans will remember Anderson for his missed free throws in Game 1 of the 1995 Finals. That should not be how Magic fans remember him.

So it is important for him to be a reminder and a constant presence for the franchise. A chance always to celebrate what was good about him and what he brought to the team. Anderson is a perfect legacy choice to be the team’s first retired jersey and it almost feels necessary to keep the reminder of his playing days alive.

For now, that is probably where the Magic should sit. Whether Russell’s No. 6 actually goes into the rafters of every arena or not, the Magic are holding steady with their position on retiring jerseys.

Next. In the beginning, the 3 was not a weapon. dark

When they do decide to hang their own jerseys from the rafters, it is clear whose numbers should be up there.