The Miami Heat already handle the retirement of uniform numbers in a somewhat unique way. They are the only team in the NBA to have raised to the rafters the jersey numbers of athletes who never played for them.
That’s the honor the organization bestowed Michael Jordan’s No. 23 in 2003. And while his number is not officially retired, the Heat also hung Dan Marino’s No. 13, even though the former Miami Dolphins quarterback never played in the NBA. If any team was going to have the distinct obligation of retiring a number twice, it was going to be the Heat.
And that is precisely what they are expected to do in the coming years. Earlier this week, the NBA announced that it would retire the No. 6 worn by Bill Russell, the Boston Celtics legend who died on July 31 at the age of 88. This is especially notable for the Heat because they have already taken No. 6 out of circulation for this era’s greatest player: LeBron James. It is not officially retired because James is still an active player.
However, when James does retire from the NBA, the Heat are still expected to retire his number, according to Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. James wore No. 6 for his four seasons in Miami in which he won two championships in four straight NBA Finals appearances with the team. He switched back to No. 23 in Cleveland and then wore it for his first three seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, but moved back to No. 6 last season. The league introduced a grandfather clause to allow players like James to continue wearing No. 6 because they were already doing so.
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The Heat have already retired the numbers of three-time champion Dwyane Wade (No. 3) and Chris Bosh (No. 1), who won two titles alongside James. One day in the not too distant future, James is going to be retired and free to make the trip to South Florida to watch his number rise into the rafters next to those of his former teammates. Technically, the Heat don’t even need to wait. They retired Jordan’s No. 23 while he was still an active player for the Washington Wizards.
But as a Heat legend, Miami would surely prefer to take the time to honor James properly once he has the time to enjoy it. It’s still years away, but one day, James and Russell will have the unique honor of sharing a retired number.