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Why The Trail Blazers Should Retire Jerome Kersey’s Number 25

Thursday, February 26, 2015

 

Jerome Kersey

After the deserved tributes are paid at Monday’s 4 p.m. celebration of life for Jerome Kersey, the Trail Blazers will face the difficult question of how to honor his memory in a more permanent fashion.

And that of course raises the question of whether Kersey’s 11-year Trail Blazers career – including an essential role in two NBA Finals squads – merits the ultimate sports honor of retiring his number 25.

In an earlier column, I wrote about the Trail Blazers’ unfortunate and silly penchant for “over-retiring” numbers, as evidenced by the fact that 10 players’ numbers hang in the Moda Center rafters for a franchise that has won only one title since its inception in 1970. Compare that to the much older Lakers franchise, which has retired one fewer number in a history that includes 16 championships. 

But Kersey’s place in team history and fans’ hearts places him far above most of the 10 Trail Blazers whose numbers are already retired. 

He is second in games played behind only Clyde Drexler; third in rebounds behind Drexler and current Trail Blazer LaMarcus Aldridge; third in steals behind Drexler and Terry Porter; and fifth in points behind Drexler, Aldridge, Porter and Cliff Robinson.  All but Robinson and Kersey have retired numbers. 

For Trail Blazers fans too young to remember Kersey, think a taller and more athletic version of Wes Matthews with the same hustle and ethos of sacrificing for the team. 

In my earlier column, I inelegantly suggested that the Trail Blazers should create space for any future retired numbers by “un-retiring” numbers of solid role players – but far from transcendent figures who played on the transcendent 1977 title team -- like Dave Twardzik, Larry Steele and Bob Gross. 

Kersey’s all-too-early passing at age 52 has gotten me thinking, though, that a better way exists to maintain honors for that trio of Twardzik, Steele and Gross while creating space to retire Kersey’s number (and ultimately at this rate years from now, Aldridge and Damian Lillard).

That better way is to list 1977championship contributors like Twardzik, Steele and Gross with all their teammates as part of the team’s title banner. Similarly, all the players on the Trail Blazers’ Western Conference championship teams in 1990 and 1992 should be enshrined on a roster list that accompanies those banners.

Yes, that approach puts little-used backups like Mark Bryant and Alaa Abdelnaby, or going even further back to 1977, benchwarmers like Robin Jones and Wally Walker at some level into the mix of honorees. But they played on those transcendent teams and this approach makes sure Twardzik, Steele and Gross aren’t forgotten.

And it sets a precedent some day to honor current Trail Blazers such as Matthews and other worthies if they end up as part of a conference champion or an NBA champion. 

More importantly, it would free up space now for Kersey to be acknowledged properly with a retired number.  

One final thought as Trail Blazers fans prepare to remember Kersey this Monday: 

For those of us who never met Kersey, our outpouring of sadness may appear silly to non-sports fans who wonder why we care about somebody who was essentially a stranger in our lives, and whether his number hangs in an arena.

And yet we do. Lucky us.

A native Oregonian, Hank Stern had a 24-year career in journalism, working for more than a decade as a reporter with The Associated Press in Oregon, New Jersey and Washington, DC. He worked seven years for The Oregonian as a reporter in east Multnomah County, Washington County and Portland’s City Hall. In 2005, he became Willamette Week’s managing news editor and worked there until 2011.

 

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