The Knicks retired Patrick Ewing’s number last month. I was listening to WFAN, and someone called in complaining that Ewing didn’t make his teammates better. Let me start by saying Ewing is a great player. But after I thought about it, I decided that Ewing didn’t make his teammates significantly better. And after I thought about it some more, I decided that if that’s a requirement for retiring a number, then you aren’t going to retire many numbers.
Makes his teammates better is an accolade ususally reserved for the passers of the game. Players like Magic and Bird, who gave their teammates the ball in a position where they could succeed. So I started thinking about non-passers who made their teammates better.
And it’s pretty slim pickings. Russell – yes, I think his presence at the back of the defense let others take chances and excel. Kareem – no, he needed the Big O and Magic to win his rings. Jordan – that’s a tough one. A great scorer, but if that were enough Kareem would be in as well. A great defender, but a perimeter defender doesn’t really make his teammates better. Jordan makes the list, because his will to win drove his teammates to victory.