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Friday, February 27, 2009
The Implications of Kevin Durant's Jersey Retiring

Congratulations to Kevin Durant, whose No. 35 was just retired by his alma mater, the University of Texas. Durant's time at UT was admittedly brief; he played just one season before turning pro. But it was quite the season: he averaged 26 points and 11 rebounds per game, leading his team to the second round of the NCAA tournament and earning the honor of 2006-07 National Player of the Year.

Still, it was just one season.

Should a player receive such distinction by a university when his commitment to the school would seem to have been mainly about satisfying the NBA's age limit, which requires that a player be 19 years of age plus one year removed from high school? I wonder, how often did Durant attend classes in the spring semester? What was his involvement in the university, other than his exceptional basketball play -- did he participate in any student clubs or perform any community work ? Did he at least follow the rules for living in his freshmen dorm, if in fact he lived in one? What does all of this say, if anything, about the student-athlete mission of the NCAA?

Maybe those questions don't matter. Their relevance would seem to depend on the criteria for jersey retiring. If it's all about basketball production, and if one season of play is enough, then Durant certainly deserves to have his number retired. Also, as my Vermont Law School colleague and friend Jason Czarnezki (of Empirical Legal Studies blog fame) wonders, Durant's earning of the National Player of Year might, like at UNC, automatically mean jersey retirement. Should these be the tests for an institute of higher education?

Let's think about Durant's contributions. In addition to his excellent play, Durant generated a lot of money for UT, with his jerseys selling well and with improved attendance to UT basketball games. I imagine his presence also helped with recruiting, and perhaps also in attracting alumni donations and maybe even in generating more applications from high school students (aka, "The Flutie Effect").

But for an institute of higher education like UT, which has a preeminent academic reputation in various fields, there's an argument to be had that jersey retiring should at least acknowledge the student-athlete's contributions as a student. It's not clear that happened here. In fact, for what it's worth, the official story on the University's website is entirely about Durant's basketball achievements.

As several of us have argued, these would be avoidable situations if there was no restriction on supremely talented high school basketball players being eligible for the NBA Draft. There is plenty of empirical support for letting high schoolers turn pro, be it on-court perfromance, off-court performance, or related points (see e.g., Alan Milstein's "Kobe" and "Reggie Bush Sweepstakes"). Plus, if no restriction existed, then a player like Durant who chose to attend college, and to presumably also attend college classes, would have done so without people questioning why he is there.


I believe that UNC ties academics to jersey retirement (i.e. you must graduate before it can go up). Pretty sure this was a trend started by Dean Smith and continued by Gutheridge, Doherty and now Roy. That said, Dean was unparralled in his pursuit of "doing things the right way." Though hes certainly a quality coach, Rick Barnes would never be confused for Dean when it comes to ethics/morals and Texas no doubt wants Durant's jersey up there for recruiting purposes. So long as the NCAA continues to exploit these kids I dont see any problem with a school giving them something tangible to honor their accomplishments.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 2/27/2009 11:54 PM  

A quick question, for Anon. @ 11:54: Michael Jordan's number 23 at UNC (Chapel Hill) wasn't retired when he left (or at any point since)? No, I'm not challenging--I honestly do not remember!
One quick note: In the NCAA, retired numbers aren't retired in the same way as in pro sports, particularly in football and basketball, due in the former to squad size and the latter to numbering limitations (no uniform numbers can have digits 6-9). Retired numbers are out for five years and then brought back.

In the pros, of course, numbers once retired stay retired except under very specific circumstances, such as:

>> If a son ever plays for same team as the player
(i.e. Pete Rose's son would wear #14 in CIncinnati, or Jim Gilliam's son would have worn #19 with the Dodgers).

>> A person whose number is retired gives permission for another player to use it (i.e. Julius Erving gave permission for someone--Allen Iverson?--to wear #6 with the 76ers on a one-off).

>> A player returns (yes, Michael Jordan got #23 back after returning and wearing #45).

Anonymous Anonymous -- 3/02/2009 2:02 AM  

UNC has the same rules as Texas.

"For a North Carolina men's player to have his jersey retired, he must win at least one of six national player of the year awards: The Associated Press, the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, the National Association of Basketball Coaches, Sporting News, the Wooden Award and the Naismith Award."

Case in point: Michael Jordan and, I believe, Antawn Jamison, did not receive their degrees before having their numbers retired.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 3/02/2009 5:27 PM  

Can't resist the opportunity to demonstrate what a hypocritical institution UNC actually is.
Anonymous One wrote the received wisdom that Dean Smith would never retire the jersey of a player that didn't graduate because such would not be doing things the right way. Of course, we know that is not truly the case. If you want to see if done right, look eight miles down the road.

From the 2008-09 Duke basketball media guide:

"What distinguishes Duke’s
retired jersey players from many other schools is the main criteria.
No jersey will be retired at Duke unless the player has earned his

In addition to a degree, although there is no official criteria, a player must distinguish himself on a national level with a national player of the year award, a national defensive player of the year, an Olympic gold medal, set a NCAA record or earn All America recognition.

There are 13 jerseys currently hanging in Cameron. Dick Groat was the first to be honored and Shelden Williams (Mr. Candace Parker) and J.J. Redick were the most recent.

Anonymous SportsBiz -- 3/05/2009 11:22 PM  

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