Julius Erving is one of the greatest basketball players of all time, and he was arguably the greatest high-flying skywalker of his generation. He was one of the most notable stars of the ’70s and ’80s, and one of the superstars he looked up to was Bill Russell.
So when the NBA made the decision to retire Bill Russell’s number 6 league-wide, Erving was in favor of this, but he doesn’t share the same enthusiasm for the prospect of the late, great Kobe Bryant’s number 24 or 8 being retired leaguewide.
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Dr. J’s disinterest in Kobe Bryant’s number being retired leaguewide isn’t because of any perceived lack of greatness from Kobe. It stems from a deep appreciation of Bill Russell and what the former center accomplished on and off the court.
Erving understands Kobe’s place among the icons and has nothing but love and respect for the Black Mamba.
He even played professionally with Kobe’s dad Joe “JellyBean’ Bryant in Philadelphia. When Kobe died in 2020, Erving sent out a heartfelt message to the family.
“Sadly absorbing the tragic news about my teammate’s loss of his son and granddaughter,” he tweeted. “Joe and Pam, I humbly offer my condolences. Vanessa, so sorry for your loss and pray you remain strong and focused on you and Kobe’s dreams for your family. Here always for you…”
It’s safe to say Erving has respect for Kobe, but the one thing he didn’t share with Kobe is what tied him and Bill Russell together: friendship.
While Erving’s decision for not wanting Kobe’s number retired across the league could be biased due to his personal friendship with Russell, Erving goes in depth on his reasoning. He frankly believes that the NBA can’t do for Kobe what they did for Russell, because the paths they walked aren’t comparable.
“I don’t think he should be compared with the Russell situation,” Erving told TMZ at LAX Airport over the weekend. “We’re fresh into that but let’s see how that works out. Maybe at some point in time. Bill was 86 years old, so address it like that to an 86-year-old — multiple champions, multiple coaching champions, multiple on-and-off the court champion, or whatever — there’s no comparison.”
Nothing will convince Erving that Kobe deserves the same reverence as Russell. The 11-time champion has the most rings in NBA history and has a list of accolades that would take forever to mention. Once you factor in Russell’s civil rights activism, it’s clear that he stands in a class by himself.
Furthermore, Erving feels that the whole Kobe Bryant number retirement ordeal should be handled in-house with the Los Angeles Lakers. Both his No. 24, and No. 8 were retired by the organization before his death.
“If they wanted to do it, which I think they already have, that makes sense — but for the whole league to do it, probably not,” Erving said.
While a tad bit biased, Erving does have a point. Once the NBA starts retiring every great basketball player’s number it will eradicate the sentimental value of the tribute. While many fans would love for Kobe’s numbers to be retired league wide, it isn’t something that has to happen anytime soon.
Bill Russell was not only the face of the league, and made history numerous times, but he represented something bigger than basketball at a time when Black athletes had to tread lightly because they were under constant racial attack. In Dr. J’s eyes, there’s no player more deserving and we don’t need to give everybody the same love Russell is getting.