Last night, after the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Miami Heat, LeBron James said he was planning to switch his number from 23 to 6, out of respect for Michael Jordan, who happened to be sitting courtside for the game.
"I just think what Michael Jordan has done for the game has to be recognized some way soon," James was quoted as saying by the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Brian Windhorst. James added that he doesn't think any player should wear the number.
When Kobe Bryant changed his number from 8 to 24 after the 2006 season, he proved that he was the most marketable player in the game by shooting to the top of the jersey sale list.
There are a couple interesting factors in play for James. If he really wants to make the change, he'll have to file the paperwork with the league by the March deadline. But the real twist is that players can change their jersey numbers at will if they change teams.
So if James really wants to wear No. 6, he'll likely have to file the paperwork, though the point will become moot if he decides not to sign with the Cavaliers after the season is over.
In 2006, I found out about Bryant's request a month after he told the league. With LeBron hinting at his change so early, it got me wondering if he hurt sales of his No. 23 this year.
But Dick's Sporting Goods chief marketing officer Jeff Hennion said he didn't think that would be the case.
"Many people will wait to see where he's playing next year if they don't own a jersey already," Hennion said.
Modell's chief executive Mitch Modell said the change would be a good thing for business.
"We would sell every "23" to collectors," Modell said. "And it would breathe new life with a new number."
Breathing new life into the industry could be important, sales of NBA jerseys are down more than 20 percent this year, according to the numbers provided by Matt Powell, analyst for SportsONESource, a sports market retail tracking firm.
"I'm sure the league would welcome any change that would spur sales," Powell said.
Officials with Nike said that they would have no comment at this time on the possible number change.
James ended last season at No. 2 in jersey sales behind Bryant. James' jersey was also the No. 2 best selling NBA jersey in China and the fourth most popular in Europe.
Update: NBAStore.com apparently has prohibited consumers from personalizing a Cavaliers jersey with the No. 6 on it. Other numbers we tried were available.
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