Norris Cole, one of the most decorated players in Cleveland State history, had his No. 30 jersey retired at the Wolstein Center Saturday afternoon before the Vikings took on the Oakland Golden Grizzlies. A number of Cole’s New Orleans Pelicans teammates were on hand to support him, as was his former Miami Heat teammate, LeBron James.
Cole’s number was the third retired by the CSU men’s basketball program, joining Franklin Edwards (No. 14, 1977-81) and Ken “Mouse” McFadden (No. 10, 1985-1989). Head coach Gary Waters and school president Ronald Berkman led Saturday’s festivities.
“Norris, who is known for his work ethic and his ability to lead a team, is truly deserving of this honor,” Waters said. “It’s not often that a number is retired, but this is a well-deserved honor and achievement for one of the most well-rounded players I have ever coached.”
“I was able to grow academically, physically, and on the court,” Cole said of his time at Cleveland State. “I was able to grow as a man. I think it’s pretty cool to see my name and number go up.
“I just want to say thank you to everyone who showed up today. Thank you for supporting us student athletes. Thank you for supporting Kailey1, thank you for supporting me.
“Everywhere I go, I’m going to make sure I represent [Cleveland State] right.”
The Vikings lost the game, 67-57, but they put forth one of their better efforts of the season. Holding Oakland to 67 points is no small feat; the Golden Grizzlies came into the game averaging 87 points per game. Vikings forward Demonte Flannigan said that the team wanted to play hard not just to snap an ongoing losing streak, but to pay respect to one of CSU’s all-time greats.
Cole was the guest of honor, but plenty of attention was paid, as one might expect, to LeBron James. James and Cole were teammates in Miami from 2011 to 2014; Cole wore one of his Heat championship rings Saturday. Both are clients of agent Rich Paul and James’ LRMR Management. Gary Waters said that the school had extended an invitation to James through Paul, but they didn’t know in advance that he would be attending.
“We didn’t know,” said Waters. “We had [an offer] out for him to come to support Norris. I had talked to his agent because Norris’ and his agent are the same — Rich Paul. We had talked to [Paul] and he said he didn’t know if LeBron was going to make it; you know he’s got his daily ritual. I was hoping that he’d come for Norris, to support Norris. They’re friends and played together.”
Waters, who briefly spoke to James before the pregame ceremony, suspected that LeBron was trying to keep his presence as low-key as possible. James sat near the scorer’s table during the retirement ceremony, then moved to a courtside seat on the opposite side — joined by Rich Paul and some handlers — for the first half of CSU-Oakland.
“I don’t think he wanted anyone to acknowledge that he was there,” Waters said. “He didn’t want to take that [attention] from Norris; he wanted today to be all about Norris.”
Cole was in Cleveland because the New Orleans Pelicans play the Cavaliers Saturday night at Quicken Loans Arena. He and James both left before the conclusion of the CSU game to prepare for their own.
Norris Cole played at Cleveland State from 2007 to 2011. He led the Vikings to three postseason appearances, including an upset over Wake Forest in the 2009 NCAA Tournament. He finished his career among the all-time Cleveland State leaders in several categories. He is Cleveland State’s all-time leader in games and minutes played; third in scoring (1,978 points), free throws made (485), and free throw percentage (.826); fourth in assists (455); and seventh in steals (207). He set single-season records for points (780), free throws made (227) and free throws attempted (266) in his senior year.
Cole was an All-Horizon League selection as a junior and senior. As a senior, he led the Vikings to 27 wins, a regular season conference championship, and an NIT berth. He became the first player in conference history to win Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season. He led the Horizon League in scoring (21.7), steals (2.2) and free throw percentage (.853), and was a finalist for the Bob Cousy award, presented to the best point guard in the country. Connecticut’s Kemba Walker, now of the Charlotte Hornets, won the Cousy award.
“All rookies who come in to the NBA come in with skills,” said President Berkman, recounting something Dwyane Wade reportedly once said of Cole. “They’re all talented. What makes them successful is not their talent but their character. What makes them successful is their willingness to understand that life and basketball are continuing learning exercises.
“Norris Cole epitomizes that.”