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Jersey Retirement "Formula"

Last week, Brian Hendrickson mentioned that he didn’t know what the criteria were for retiring a player’s jersey.  I have read through the comments in other posts, sifted through some thoughtful emails, and consulted with various members of the media -- just about everyone seems to agree there is no "formula."   So I got to thinking… and thinking… and thinking… if I'm serious about making the case for Terry Porter, let’s do it… let’s make a formula for retiring jerseys.

A retired jersey is some combination of hard accomplishments (rings and stats, etc.) and soft accomplishments (reputation, community involvement, etc.)— but it’s a difficult balance to quantify.  

In attempting to create a simple, usable "formula," (my formula only uses addition so just bear with me when I refer to it as a formula) it’s important to note a clear difference between retiring a jersey and voting for a player to enter the Hall of Fame. Retiring a player’s jersey is, first and foremost, an organizational honor rather than an individual honor.  A retired jersey celebrates the player’s achievements but also those of the teams he played on. And, importantly, it celebrates the success of the franchise as a whole.  

With that thought in mind, my formula includes what I believe to be the top 5 most important criteria.  It balances team factors (2 of the five criteria), individual factors (2 of the five criteria) and a wild card factor (all of the rest of the resume-padding stuff that gets brought up during bar room debates on this subject).

For each of the five criteria, I ranked previous Blazer honorees (as well as Terry Porter) on a scale of 1 to 5 points.  Obviously, the criteria are different to get your jersey retired as a Celtic than they are as a Blazer. So, for our purposes, points are handed out on a Blazeres-relative basis: maximum points in any category are earned by the highest-achieving Blazers of all time, all non-Blazers be damned.  

A question is included with each criterion to assist you with your own ranking.

Criterion #1  Connection with the franchise.  

This one is most obvious limiting factor so it must come first. Clearly, the Blazers aren’t going to retire Hakeem’s jersey (he never played for us!) nor should they retire Pippen’s jersey (let Chicago keep him!) but they did retire Lloyd Neal’s jersey (lifelong Blazer!).  

Ask yourself: If this player was elected to the Hall of Fame, would he enter as a member of this team?

To determine how closely a player is connected with a franchise, one generally assesses 4 conditions:

1) Did the player play his most important years with the team?

2) Did the player play the majority of his career with the team?

3) Was the player drafted by the team?

4) Did the player retire with the team?

I awarded 5 points for players who met all 4 of the above conditions, 4 points for those who met 3 of the conditions and 3 points for those who met 2 of the conditions. 


Criterion #2  Success with the franchise. 

Success in the NBA is measured first and foremost by playoff success. Champions are remembered forever; finalists live on in both highlight footage and memory; everybody else drifts to the periphery.  Judging a player’s relative success across generations can be tricky, but its clear two factors are important to consider: the maximum success his team’s enjoyed and his role in creating that success.  

Ask yourself, "Can the story of the franchise’s glory days be told without mentioning this player?"  

To weigh both the team's success and the player's role in that sucess, I gave 5 points to a star on a championship team, 5 points to a starter on championship team, 5 points to a star on a finalist team, 4 points to a role player on a finalist team and 4 points to a starter on a finalist team.  I gave 2 courtesy points to Geoff Petrie as he was traded for Maurice Lucas and therefore missed out on the winning.


Criterion #3 Statistical Body of Work.  

After looking at team achievements, it’s time to turn to the players' individual work.  Of course, statistics don’t tell the full story, but they generally tell the important parts (Clyde was sick; Maurice was mean; Steele was a sub).  Both quality and quantity of numbers are important, as is longevity.

Ask yourself, "How dominant (and for how long) was this player?"

In assigning the points in this category, I took into account: league-leading tallies, franchise/league records, double-doubles, 10+ year careers, and anything else that truly jumps out of the box score/ stat sheet.


Criterion #4 Individual Awards.  

Individual awards don’t come easy in the NBA.  Amazing seasons are forgotten by history all the time so those years that were acknowledged at the time they occurred or those that have stood the test of time are certainly relevant in determining whether a player is an all-time great member of an organization.

Ask, "What are the standout individual achievements on this player’s resume and how do they compare to other franchise greats?"

Assigning points here was simple: the more individual achievements, the more points earned out of 5.  Achievements taken into consideration include: all-star appearances; end of season awards (MVP, All-NBA first team, etc.); franchise records.


Criterion #5 The Intangibles.

I tried to bottle up all the murkiness that enters this debate into a final category.  This section takes into account the player’s personality, contributions to the community and investment in the organization.   

Ask yourself, "Is the player a credit to the organization, the city and the league?"

In assigning points, I included achievements such as being a: founding member; local legend; fan favorites; playoff hero; active Portland community member; a coach or front office member for the Blazers or in the NBA as a whole.

While this category is certainly subjective, it is only 20% of the overall picture so haggling over a point up or down should not make or break a candidate’s application.


Summing Up The Points

Adding up the scores in all categories is a simple matter.  Out of a total 25 possible points, here’s how our current honorees (and Terry Porter) scored.



Clearly there are two groups: 1) Those at or above 20 points and 2) those below 20 points.  I think most reasonable fans would agree that Petrie, Lucas, Drexler and Walton are no-brainers and not worthy of argument.  

The second group is where most of the arguments arise.  Were Twardzik’s and Hollins’ contributions in 1977 enough to get them in?  What makes Lloyd Neal so much more important than other role players in Blazers history? My formula, admittedly, doesn’t answer those questions.  However, it does make the case that Terry Porter is at least as deserving as 4 out of the 8 Blazers honorees.  

No, TP, isn’t quite in the absolute upper echelon… but he is the next closest thing.  This is where the spirit of the "Honor Terry Porter" movement arises from: when taking everything into account, the man deserves the same recognition given to a number of players before him.  If the team’s cutoff for eligibility hovers in the 15-17 range on my scale, I think a compelling case can be made that TP measurably exceeds this minimum standard.

Now I ask you: how well did this formula succeed in quantifying the jersey retirement process?  How accurately does it rank current honorees? 

As always, send me your thoughts and memories of Terry Porter.

-- Ben (