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Who Can Forget Number 6?

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There's lots of Clipper news out there, so of course I've decided to post about... the Spurs.  

Seriously, there's not much in the way of 'new' news.  Mobley's got a strained calf muscle and will miss most of camp (I imagine he's not too upset about missing two-a-days at the age of 32).  In a related story, ClipperSteve pulled a hammy at ClipperMax's soccer practice on Monday.  44 is worse than 32.  Kaman tweaked his low back and sat out the afternoon practice on Tuesday, and is day-to-day.  (This one actually is of some concern.  Has this guy ever had a problem free pre-season?  Seems like he's always got some excuse entering the season, which the team then points to to explain his perennial slow start.  If he has a slow start this season, it's over.  Start collecting rabbits feet for the lottery party.)  And Dan Dickau appears to be inevitable.  Both the LAT and the OCR are saying he'll be in camp this afternoon, after he clears waivers and assuming he passes a physical.  

But then this little tidbit caught my eye;  the Spurs are going to retire the jersey number of Avery Johnson.  That's right - the Spurs are going to retire the jersey of a guy who averaged 8 points and 5.5 assists in his career.  Whose career season high was 13 points per game.  Now, I realize that Avery was a terrific floor leader for the Spurs (hence the Little General sobriquet) and that he was the starting point guard on their first title team.  But COME ON.  Don't you have to have some standards for retiring jerseys?  Mario Elie was just as important to that first title, wasn't he?

A quick check of Spurs history shows a mixed bag.  In March 2005, Sean Elliot became the 5th Spur to have his number retired.  The four others?  George Gervin, David Robinson, Johnny Moore and James Silas.  Now, I have no argument with Gervin, Robinson or Elliot of course.  Johnny Moore and James Silas are a little less obvious, but let's compare Moore to Avery Johnson.  

Johnny Moore had four consecutive seasons where he averaged 9.6 or more assists beginning with his second season in the NBA.  He led the league in assists per game in 81-82 and was in the top 5 three other seasons.  And he was a contemporary of a guy named Magic Johnson and another guy named Isiah Thomas, so leading the league in assists per game meant a LOT.  He was among the best point guards in the league during his brief career, which was cut tragically short when he was diagnosed with Valley Fever.  He never played another full season.

Avery Johnson made up in mediocrity what Johnny Moore lacked in longevity.  Avery had a single season where he averaged as many as 9.6 assists.  The Spurs, now planning to retire his jersey, were so enamored of him in 1991 that they WAIVED him.  They also let him leave via free agency twice after that, and we're not talking about huge money contracts here.  In fact, it's unclear that he actually wore jersey number 6 in each of his stints with the team (I checked the media guide, but they did not list numbers).  Which raises the question, do they have to retire multiple numbers?  The brief article about his upcoming ceremony (Dec. 22, against the Clippers for some reason) makes a point of him spending 'all or part of 10 seasons' with the Spurs.  Yeah, in three stretches because they never actually kept the guy.  He didn't even finish his career with the team.

Now, maybe I've got a personal vendetta against him.  I was pretty hacked off when he played his scrubs against the Warriors in a game that was crucial to the Clippers' slim playoff hopes late last season.  But I'm trying to be objective.  Databasebasketball.com has a little feature that compares players careers based purely on the numbers.  Here are some players whose careers are  similar to Avery Johnson's:  Vern Fleming, Eric Show, Sedale Threatt, Muggsy Bogues, Jay Humphries, Sherman Douglas and Rory Sparrow.  Think the Hornets are planning to retire Muggsy Bogues' jersey any time soon?

I realize that there's the 'championship team' argument that takes Muggsy Bogues and Sherman Douglas off the table (as if they were ever on it).  But somebody had to be the 4th or 5th best player on that championship team, you know?  If every NBA champion retired their top 4 or 5 players, you'd have BJ Armstrong, Steve Kerr and Luc Longley in the rafters in Chicago.  Hell, a few years from now, I suppose we could see Udonis Haslem in the rafters in Miami.

It's really surprising that the Spurs would do this now, with easily four players on their current roster whose numbers will have to be retired eventually.  I mean, Duncan, Parker and Ginobili are no-brainers barring some sort of future scandal, and certainly if you retire Avery Johnson's number, you have to retire Bruce Bowen's.  Unless they raise their standards, they're going to have to add a third digit around 2030.  

Alvin Robertson (3 consecutive all-star teams with the Spurs), Artis Gilmore (2 all-star teams) and Larry Kenon (2 NBA all-star teams and 1 ABA all-star team) all would seem to be more obvious choices than Avery.  Hell, if Avery's going into the rafters, where's Mark Olberding and Billy Paultz?  

I found one other interesting comparison in looking at the data.  As it happens, another current NBA coach and former Spur had almost identical stats as a Spur as Avery Johnson's career numbers.  In 1982, Mike Dunleavy Sr. averaged 7.8 points and 5.5 assists per game for San Antonio.  No word yet on his jersey retirement ceremony.  First someone has to go through the archival photos and figure out what number he wore.