(Riley and Jordan sitting side-by-side in 2009. Photo by Joe Murphy, Getty Images)
4/11/2003 - Heat retire Jordan's jersey
In the midst of Michael Jordan's final, final goodbye tour, his Washington Wizards traveled to Florida to face the Miami Heat for the last time in his career. It was the last time he would ever face off against Miami coach Pat Riley, the ultimate rival to Jordan's former coach, Phil Jackson. Before the game, Riley said goodbye to Jordan and did something that had never been done before: he retired Jordan's number. Hanging in the rafters of Miami's American Airlines Arena was half of a Bulls Jordan jersey and half of a Wizards Jordan jersey, stitched together as though Two-Face had designed it.
"In honor of your greatness and for all you've done for the game of basketball - and not just the NBA, but for all the fans around the world - we want to honor you tonight and hang your jersey, No. 23, from the rafters," Riley told him before the game. "No one will ever wear No. 23 for the Miami Heat. You're the best."
It was a peculiar moment to be sure. While there was no doubt that Jordan was an exceptional basketball player -- by most standards the greatest of all time -- there wasn't much of a reason to retire his jersey number. He didn't play for the Heat, he played in Chicago, and when he was in Chicago, he bested the Miami Heat's chances for a title on multiple occasions.
Jordan's 23 was the first number the Heat retired in their franchise history. They would later retire Dan Marino's No. 12 uniform -- a nice tribute to a local hero, but an odd one because, again, he never played for the Miami Heat. It wasn't until 2009, when they retired Alonzo Mourning's No. 33, that the Heat actually commemorated someone who played for their team. Weird.
By the way, the last Miami Heat player to wear No. 23 was Cedric Ceballos (trivia question).