Cavaliers, General

Un-Retiring Cavalier Jerseys

Hello, Moondog. I’m glad you could make it; please sit down. Now, before we start I want you to know that this is a safe space. No one here is going to judge you. We are only here because we care. It’s about the retired jerseys. There are just too many. Wait! Come back here. C’mon, buddy, don’t be like that. There you go. I know this is difficult to hear, but the fact that you’re willing to stay and listen should tell you something. We both love the Cavaliers. They’re a great team with 48 years of history. Over seven hundred players have suited up for them, and a few absolutely deserve to have their numbers immortalized. But right now there are just too many. It’s time to look through the list and figure out which names and numbers deserve to hang from the ceiling and which do not belong. You ready? I’m proud of you. Let’s begin.

Each team can decide for itself how to handle honors for former players, but I believe a consistent formula would benefit the Cavaliers. To the best of my knowledge the team does not have a codified standard for retiring a player’s number. Moving forward I would propose the following criteria for retiring a player’s number.

  • Played in at least 41 games per year for at least eight years
  • Received some sort of award or honor from the Association (All-Star, All-NBA Team, etc.)
  • Has been retired from professional basketball for at least five years
  • The team reserves the right to remove the number in the event the retired player’s personal conduct warrants it.

#7: Robert “Bingo” Smith

BOSTON, MA – 1976: Bingo Smith #7 of the Cleveland Cavaliers stands against the Boston Celtics during a game played circa 1976 at the Boston Garden in Boston, Massachussets. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1976 NBAE (Photo by Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images)

The case for: Duration and durability. The Cavaliers selected Bingo from the San Diego Rockets as part of the 1970 Expansion Draft. He contributed immediately averaging 15.2 points per game in the Cavs’ first season. Smith played in all 82 games in four of his nine full Cleveland campaigns with a 45.2% field goal percentage in Northeast Ohio, and was a key part of the 1976 Miracle at Richfield season. Eight games into the 1979-80 season the Cavs dealt him to the San Diego Clippers for a 1980 third round pick. Plus my man WORE that afro. In the Cavaliers’ all-time leaderboards, Smith ranks:

  • 4th in games played (720)
  • 3rd in field goals made (4,182)
  • 3rd in field goals missed (5,074)
  • 10th in total rebounds (3,057)
  • 2nd in personal fouls (1,752)
  • 6th in points (9,513)
  • 6th in turnover percentage (8.4%)

The case against: Smith was a “good-but-not-great” player for Cleveland. He never appeared in an All-Star Game, earned a spot on an All-NBA team, or won any sort of honor from the league.

Smith goes.

#11. Zydrunas Ilgauskas

The case for: The man they call “Z” bridged the gap between the Cavaliers’ 1998 playoff team and the First Era of LeBron James. He appeared on the All-Rookie First Team, but five games into his sophomore season a foot injury took him out for not only 1998-99 but also the 1999-00 season. Ilgauskas returned to form and then some, reaching the All-Star Game in 2002-03 and 2004-05. Z wound up playing twelve seasons in Cleveland before a brief defection to Miami which is not germane to this analysis. Ilguaskas’ name pervades the franchise leaderboards ranking first in:

  • Offensive rebounds (2,336)
  • Total rebounds (5,904)
  • Blocks (1,269)
  • Personal fouls (2,591)

Arguably Z’s greatest achievement was simply returning to the floor. The foot injury he suffered at 23-years-old could have easily ended his career, but his heart and determination allowed him to surpass the bar he set as a rookie. After retiring he remained active in the basketball community; at one point he served as an assistant coach for the St. Ignatius basketball team. He also works as a special advisor to the Cavaliers.

The case against: He played for Miami? In all seriousness, Z deserves to have his number retired as much as anyone. He left it all on the floor while in Wine and Gold (and Black and Orange) while the fans intoned his elongated letter all night – ZZZzzzzzzz

Z stays.

#22: Larry Nance

The Case For: Cleveland acquired Larry Nance at the 1988 trade deadline along with Mike Sanders and a 1st round pick in exchange for Tyrone Corbin, Mark West, and three draft picks in 1988 and ’89. The 28-year-old contributed right away and stuck with the Cavs for six full seasons afterwards. Named to the 1989 and 1993 All-Star Games, Nance made his bones as a defender. The Association named him 1st team All-Defensive 1988-89 and 2nd team All-Defensive in 1991-92 and 1992-93. A sign of the times – he attempted only 24 three pointers in 433 Cavalier games. Nance ranks:

  • 9th in minutes played (14,966)
  • 9th in field goals (2,945)
  • 7th in offensive rebounds (1,067)
  • 8th in total rebounds (3,561)
  • 3rd in blocks (1,087)
  • 9th in points (7,257)
  • 3rd in field goal percentage (.530)

The Case Against: Brevity. Nance played in only 433 games as a Cavalier, appearing in 83% of possible games over six and a half seasons.  His name is all over the record books, but his is the second shortest tenure of any Cavalier with a retired number.

Nance goes.

#25. Mark Price

The case for: Cleveland acquired Mark Price in a 1986 Draft day deal with Dallas. Price quickly established himself as the starting point guard. He appeared in four All-Star Games, three third-team All-NBA lineups, and one first-team All-NBA list. You’ll find his name in the Cavs’ record books too:

  • 8th in games played (582)
  • 6th in field goals (3,429)
  • 2nd in 3-point field goals (802)
  • 2nd in assists (4,206)
  • 2nd in steals (734)
  • 5th in points (9,543)
  • 1st in free throw percentage (.906)

The case against: Price played inspired point guard during his entire Cleveland tenure. There is not much of an argument against his number hanging from the rafters.

Price stays.

#34. Austin Carr

The case for: He isn’t called “Mr. Cavalier” for nothing, folks. The Cavaliers selected Carr from Notre Dame with the first overall pick in 1971. Carr averaged 21.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 3.4 assists as a rookie and was named to the first-team all-rookie squad. He was named to the All-Star team in 1974. Carr powered the offense and the franchise record books reflect his contribution:

  • 6th in games played (635)
  • 2nd in field goals (4,272)
  • 2nd in field goals missed (7,957)
  • 6th in free throws (1,719)
  • 9th in assists (1,820)
  • 4th in points (10,265)

The case against: Cleveland loves Carr because he helped define the difficult, early years of the franchise and played during the team’s first playoff season. He did not, however, garner much adoration from the larger NBA community at least in terms of awards and honors (he did receive the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award in 1980 though).

Carr has managed to remain a steady presence in the lives of younger Cavs fans through his color commentary during TV broadcasts. Any 5-year-old in Northeast Ohio knows to get excited when someone “throws the hammer down” or “hits one from deep in the Q.”

Carr stays.

#42. Nate Thurmond

The case for: Thurmond provided a spark and veteran presence to the 1975-76 club. Cleveland was 6-11 before he joined and helped the team finish 43-22. Thurmond averaged 4.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1 assist per game which is…not that good come to think of it.

The case against: He only played 93 games as a Cavalier! Wally Szczerbiak played more games in Cleveland. To be clear, Thurmond is a seven-time all-star, hall of fame center, but his name has no business hanging in Quicken Loans Arena. The Cavs retired his number in December 1977, the same year he retired. The whole decision-making process there screams “impulse buy.” Retiring his number is the basketball equivalent of the Indians retiring Paul Byrd’s No. 36 because he helped the Tribe defeat the Yankees in the 2007 ALDS. It defies logic.

Thurmond goes.

#43. Brad Daugherty

The case for: Cleveland drafted Daugherty out of UNC with the No. 1 overall pick of the 1986 Draft. The seven-footer played eight seasons for the Cavaliers. He appeared in five All-Star Games, was named first-team all-rookie in 1987 and third-team all-NBA in 1991-92. The center averaged 19.0 ppg, 9.5 rpg, and 3.7 apg in his career. You’ll find his name all over the Cavalier franchise leaderboards:

  • 4th in minutes played (20,029)
  • 5th in field goals (3,823)
  • 2nd in free throws (2,741)
  • 2nd in defensive rebounds (4,020)
  • 3rd in total rebounds (5,227)
  • 7th in assists (2,028)
  • 3rd in points scored (10,389)

Daugherty retired as the franchise’s all-time leader in points and rebounds.

The case against: It’s difficult to make a case against Daugherty, but one could perhaps say he left too soon. His dodgy back refused to grant him peace; he retired at 28. It’s tempting to wonder if he had entered the league now with more attention paid to medical care and conditioning if he could have perhaps played another five or six seasons.

Daugherty stays.

So, Moondog, does that make sense? The Cavaliers franchise has been blessed with many talented players in their history. Bingo Smith, Larry Nance, and Nate Thurmond all played terrific basketball, but they would not have their jerseys retired under this new system. Moving forward, the team would be wise to consider these criteria when evaluating future players for immortality. While it may be difficult to take down those numbers I think we can all agree that before too long we will see a few new ones in the ceiling, most importantly No. 23.