March 07, 2011
When Carmelo Anthony(notes) was traded to the Knicks two weeks ago, he was forced to change his number from 15 to 7. You see, 15 is retired for both Earl Monroe and Dick McGuire, and 22 -- Melo's number in high school at Oak Hill Academy -- was sent to the rafters in honor of Dick DeBusschere. It's a tough break for the Knicks' new star, but these things happen and can only be cleared up if the owners of the retired jersey consent.
"[Carmelo] talked to me on the podium after the press conference and I told him I'm fine with it but he'd have to ask the McGuires," Monroe told The Post. "Fifteen, it's just a number to me. I'd be honored if he wore it."
Anthony missed the March 1 deadline to apply for a new jersey number for next season.
"I wish I can take it back down," Anthony said. "Talking to Earl, I don't know what I've got to go through to get it. I'll wear it in his honor."
Retired jerseys are one of the best ways that a team can honor its legends, but it works more because a player's name is listed in the arena than because no one wears his jersey. As long as Monroe's jersey and name are on display above the court at Madison Square Garden, he'll be remembered. McGuire is a more complicated case: He was the franchise's first real star and is largely forgotten by mass audiences, but it's unclear if anyone would be any less interested in him if someone wore his number.
I don't mean to suggest that retired numbers are meaningless -- in fact, I think it should happen more often. But the honor is most useful as a ceremonial one rather than a practical one. Again, Knicks fans will continue to know Earl Monroe as long as people talk about him and his name is prominent throughout their home arena. He's all right with Melo wearing No. 15 because it's not necessary for his good reputation.
This ultimately isn't the most important story in the world -- Melo will be fine if he's forced to make a new jersey number part of Knicks lore. But Monroe's comments here are a reminder that not every player approaches their retired jersey in the same way. For some, it's a nice little token rather than a necessity.