Erving doesn't think it makes sense for NBA to retire Kobe's numbers


Dr. J is weighing in on the NBA legacies of Bill Russell and Kobe Bryant -- “there is no comparison.”

Julius Erving, speaking to TMZ while walking through LAX, was asked about the potential for the NBA to retire Kobe Bryant’s numbers. The premise has gained popularity in the wake of the league’s decision to retire Russell’s No. 6 across all franchises, the first league-wide jersey retirement and only the third of its kind across all major professional sports leagues.

While Erving said his opinion could change “at some point in time,” he was steadfast in his belief that Russell’s contributions to basketball were unparalleled.

“I don’t think he should be compared with the Russell situation,” Erving said of Bryant. “... Multiple champions, multiple coaching champions, multiple on-and-off the court champion, whatever -- there’s no comparison.”

Throughout his career, Russell built an esteemed reputation as a leader and winner on and off the court. His 11 NBA championships -- the most of any player in league history -- largely catalyzed the rich tradition of the Boston Celtics and placed him as a key figure in the civil rights movement. He died last month at the age of 88 and his No. 6 was posthumously retired across the league, with no new jerseys being issued. 

In the weeks since the NBA’s league-wide jersey retirement, some fans have called on NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to extend the same honor to Bryant. The five-time NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, tragically died in a plane crash in January 2020 along with eight other passengers, including his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna. 

The Lakers retired both of Bryant’s numbers -- No. 8 and No. 24 -- in 2017. Erving, who played three seasons with Kobe’s dad, Joe, in Philadelphia, believes the younger Bryant’s jersey retirement should remain a franchise matter.

“It’s more of a franchise situation with the Lakers,” Erving said. “If they wanted to do it, which I think they already have, that makes sense -- but for the whole league to do it, probably not.

“Bill was a very special individual and what he did for basketball, no one else could ever do again”

Erving, a Hall-of Famer and 11-time All-Star, said he considered Russell a “good friend.” Despite being one of many players including LeBron James and Patrick Ewing, to follow in Russell’s footsteps and wear No. 6, he considers it synonymous with the Celtics legend. 

“I think it's completely justified to retire his number,” Erving said. “That's the only number he ever had. Many of us who wore No. 6 also had other numbers.”

Contact Us