The Cavaliers don’t have many jerseys retired. To date, the franchise has retired the following jerseys: Bingo Smith (No. 7), Zydrunas Ilgauskas (No. 11), Larry Nance Sr. (No. 22), Mark Price (No. 25), Austin Carr (No. 34), Nate Thurmond (No. 42) and Brad Daugherty (No. 43). LeBron’s No. 23 will surely be in the rafters someday.
But who else could get up there. Let’s take a look at a few possibilities.
Chris Manning: J.R. Smith is a Cleveland legend for his role in winning the title, his shirtless celebration and being a source of joy for most of his Cleveland tenure. But he’s not going to go down as an all-time great for the team and wasn’t with the team for a long enough period of time to have built up an Austin Carr-like equity. He should be a team Ring of Honor or something similar, but No. 5 shouldn’t be up in the rafters.
I’m also of the opinion that a ring of honor or team-only Hall of Fame is better than retiring numbers.
Evan Dammarell: When it comes to J.R.’s legacy in Cleveland, it can be pretty easy to point out his gaffe in Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals as the defining moment of his career. Or how his time with the organization ended in him being ostracized from the team in mid-November last season. But, those two moments don’t encompass the entirety of it. It’s easy to get caught up in Cleveland’s Big Three all having career-defining moments in Game 7, but without J.R.’s heroics on both sides of the ball, the Cavs winning the championship in 2016 wouldn’t be possible. J.R. will forever be a sports legend in Cleveland and deserves to have No. 5 up in the rafters.
CM: Varejao is eighth all-tie in VORP in Cavs history, played the seventh-most games for the franchise and is near the top in a few other statistical categories. He was also around for a number of bleak years and is a defining figure for over 10 years of Cavs basketball. He’s not an all-time great, but like Carr, he’s done enough to get his jersey in the rafters.
ED: Varejao is tricky for some fans because, like Smith, they are quick to point out the negatives in his Cavaliers legacy after he joined Golden State. Maybe it’s because I have such a soft spot for Wild Thing so it’s easy for me to look past it. He was traded from one championship contender towards the end of his NBA career and was just trying to get a ring. Before joining the Warriors, Andy had played the entirety of his career with the Cavs and is currently seventh in games played (591), fourth in offensive rebounds (1479), fifth in defensive rebounds (2955), and was a serious All-Star candidate for the 2012-13 season. Not only that, but Andy was a bright spot for the Cavs during the dark times between the LeBron eras as well. Personally, it would make my heart sing and everything groovy for No. 17 to be retired by the Cavs.
CM: Kyrie’s whole argument is that he hit the biggest shot any Cavalier will ever hit. His series-winner in the 2016 Finals is as clutch a shot as has ever existed and, along with his numbers, there’s a clear argument that No. 2 should be retired. The problem is that he left on a very bad note with the fan base and Collin Sexton now wears that number. So it may take several years, but he deserves to have his jersey up there.
ED: The Cavs giving Collin Sexton No. 2 to me felt similar to when the Orlando Magic gave No. 12 to Tobias Harris soon after Dwight Howard left town. It just feels weird. Kyrie Irving is arguably the greatest point guard in franchise history for the Cavaliers and that alone makes the case to retire his jersey. It’s a touchy subject with fans right now since he burned every bridge imaginable on his way out the door and continued to do so in Boston. But, I think in time both Irving and Cleveland fans will soften their stances and will embrace each other again. No offense to Sexton, but the legacy that Irving left in Cleveland can never be matched.
CM: Man, this one is tough. He was a title winner, a face of the franchise post LeBron and Kyrie and is one of the best players to ever wear a Cavs jersey. But he was the third wheel, probably won’t have a place near the top of different statistical categories and we still have to see if he’s a Cavalier for a few more years. There’s definitely a case to be made, but he’s TBD.
ED: From the moment he arrived in Cleveland, there was always some kind of speculation that Kevin Love was going to be traded. That, or whenever the team failed, he was always the fall guy. Sure, it was easy to make Love the butt of any joke but when it mattered most he stepped up. This could not be any more clear than the defense he played on Steph Curry in the closing moments of the 2016 NBA Finals. This moment alone already cemented Love’s legacy, but after he decided to sign a long-term extension it made him an all-time Cleveland sports great. Even after LeBron left town. Love will absolutely have his jersey retired by the organization one day.
CM: Based on how the Cavs have retired jerseys before, there’s a clear argument for No. 13 to be retired at some point. If he’s with Cleveland for the rest of his career (or at least a large chunk of it) and rises up the rebound list (particularly offensive rebounds, where he’s a few seasons away from the top of the list) he definitely should have his number retired. But how he ages and his future in Cleveland will have some say in this.
ED: At this point, I’m going to make a case for every member of the starting lineup for the 2016 Championship squad. Tristan Thompson is no exception to this. Canadian Dynamite (H/t to Nate Smith from Cavs: The Blog) has been a member of the Cavs for his entire career and currently sits second in offensive rebounds (1889), sixth in defensive rebounds (2927), and ninth in games played (562). He was also critical in consistently neutralizing Al Horford in the team’s playoff heyday and also came up big in the Cavs first title and Cleveland’s first championship in over five decades. Thompson, like Love, is a holdover from those championship runs and will likely be traded before next summer. When he does go, Thompson can know that his legacy will be cemented in Cleveland sports history forever.
ED: I don’t think there is much to debate on this one. LeBron James and the Cavs will be forever intertwined because frankly, James is the entirety of the team’s legacy. Not only will his jersey be retired, but there will be a statue outside of the arena as well Hell, there should be a LeBron James museum inside of the arena. Name the court after him too. It seems a little hyperbolic but James legitimately means that much to the Cavaliers organization, the city of Cleveland, and all of Northeast Ohio. Not many fans can say that they had the greatest player of all time play for their favorite team. Cavs fans sure can.