It’s July 7, 2010. You’re a Cleveland Cavaliers fan, and the jersey selection in your closet consists of an early 90s Mark Price jersey, a Bernie Kosar Browns jersey, a Kenny Lofton Indians jersey, an Eddie George Ohio State jersey, and three LeBron James jerseys. Move forward one day and LeBron makes “the Decision” to take his talents to South Beach. Do you:
A – Burn or throw away all three LeBron jerseys
B – Keep wearing them because now they’re “throwbacks”
C – Get a new jersey, and keep the LeBron jerseys in the closet until the day of his Hall of Fame speech
The correct answer is C. Never ditch the jersey of a potential Hall of Famer because if they are an elite player, the old rule of “everything old becomes new again” applies. However, different rules apply to different situations. Especially today when players are switching allegiances faster than you can tie your shoes.
Are there instances where it is okay to continue to wear former players jerseys? Does it matter if the player was traded, departed as a free agent, or if they retired? Does the cost of the jersey matter? I’m about to cover all of these and more, so sit back and crack open a cold one. Just be warned, this might get a little dicey.
Issue #1 – Player Gets Traded
Let’s say you have a favorite player and he’s traded away. Favorite sons are shipped off in multiplayer deals more and more thanks to the world of free agency. Maybe you’re a fan of a small market team, and said team knows it won’t be able to throw Yankees-type money at its star player. It’s better to get something than nothing. In these cases, the exiting player usually has not done anything wrong to warrant the burying of his jersey in your closet.
In early 2000, Ken Griffey Jr. was shipped from Seattle to Cincinnati in a five-player deal. If you were a Mariners fan, there’s no reason to trash that #24 sitting in your top drawer (Side note, please don’t fold your jerseys in a drawer. Hang them properly so they stay fresh). The man with the sweet swing would eventually return to where it all started in order to finish his career, but there was no way to know that would happen. At the end of the day, if a player is traded, it’s not usually his fault. As such, in most cases you can continue wearing his jersey for as long as you’d like, especially if he put significant time in for your favorite ballclub. Players in this category include: Ken Griffey Jr. (Mariners or Reds), Wayne Gretzky (Oilers), Dominique Wilkins (Hawks), Joe Montana (49ers), etc.
Here are the two caveats: If they’re bona fide Hall of Fame material, you can wear their jersey no matter what. Yes, that includes any Pete Rose or Brett Favre jerseys out there. Bonus points if you wear a Rose jersey to a Vegas casino (I mean let’s be honest, put the guy in the Hall of Fame, but make his plaque say “I bet you didn’t think I’d get here”). If they played for your team for a few games, and were subsequently shipped out again, then you can only wear the jersey once they have retired i.e. Mike Piazza (Marlins) and Rasheed Wallace (Hawks).
Issue #2 – Player Leaves Via Free Agency
For me this also ties into how long a player was in a particular city. Three seasons is enough to warrant being allowed to continue to wear a jersey. Shaquille O’Neal was in Miami for three and change and won a championship there. Thus he just makes the cut. However, while he is still active, don’t let me catch you in a Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers, or Boston Celtics jersey with the Big Aristotle on the back. That’s a no-no.
Ray Allen makes for an interesting subject because he was drafted by Milwaukee, traded to Seattle, joined Boston via free agency, and then joined Miami via free agency. He’s also bona fide Hall of Fame caliber. Normally, I would agree it’s okay to wear the Bucks (spent seven seasons), Celtics (won a championship), and Heat (won a championship) versions. However, because the Seattle SuperSonics no longer exist as a franchise, it raises the value of anything Sonics related. So, now a Ray Allen Sonics jersey is actually cooler than any of the three other teams he played for. I told you it gets complicated.
Rent-a-players frequently arrive by trade, then leave via free agency after playing for just a few months. C.C. Sabathia was a rental in Milwaukee, Matt Garza was rented last season by the Texas Rangers, and the Marlins rented Darren Daulton in 1997. Only Daulton tasted championship champagne, and as a rule you should generally not wear rental players’ jerseys. Daulton is fine if it’s a Phillies jersey, and Sabathia is fine if it’s an Indians or Yankees jersey. If you buy any Matt Garza jersey, I’d take out a health insurance plan as well just to be safe.
In 2001 Dikembe Mutombo became a rental for the Philadelphia 76ers. In total he spent a season-and-a-half there. Even though he falls under the three season rule, and he’s more of a long term rent-a-player, I say it’s okay to wear #55. If anyone says otherwise, just wag your finger at them. Until his retirement, it was NOT okay to wear his Knicks or Nets jerseys.
What about if the player leaves on bad terms? Maybe he left for more money? Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez both come to mind under that scenario. Obviously my introductory paragraph for LeBron James fits perfectly into this situation. In this case, I say use your head. If you think someone could be upset enough to yell at you, start a fight, or the jersey might illicit some other type of negative reaction then shelve it until the player retires. I’ll be honest, though, I’m not sure anyone gets respect even from wearing a Pirates version of Barry Bonds. Those two guys are known for being jerks, and you’ll probably be judged for “supporting” them.
Issue #3 – The Player Retired
This answer is probably the easiest of all. Any star retired player is a better choice than an average current player. Think Dan Marino vs. Ryan Tannehill. Even years after his retirement, you still associate the Miami Dolphins with #13. Marino is the face of that franchise and his jersey will never go out of style. Every team has a face of the franchise, and if you don’ t know what jersey to buy, this is always a safe pick because it’s essentially a trump card on all other jerseys.
Once a guy hangs up the spikes, all bets are off. If he only played for a team for a season, now it’s cool because it’s rare. Was the player obscure or random? Now it’s cool because it’s rare. In fact, once the player retires, the only reason I would say no is if he was a cheater and known to be a bad person in general. That being said, there are jerseys of rude players out there, so use your own discretion. I suppose the saying, “time heals all wounds” applies.
In the end, deciding what to do with your jersey is a judgment call. It’s impossible to set any rules that are written in stone, but be aware that a jersey is not truly random until the player hasn’t been wearing it for awhile. If you’re wearing a Miami Heat road Mike Miller jersey today, that’s not random. That’s just perplexing. In ten years that’s probably an awesome throwback. Would anyone in Chicago have worn a Michael Jordan jersey in the blue and gold of the Washington Wizards during his final years? I doubt it. Now, you might see one or two once in awhile. How about a Hakeem Olajuwon jersey with Raptors across the front or an Orlando Magic jersey with Patrick Ewing on the back? They’re definitely weird, but now that makes them kind of cool.
Finally, what about the cost? Well, I personally won’t spend more than $175 on any jersey. That’s my personal limit. You have to set your own limits, and do what feels comfortable. By the way, just an inside tip, if you’re ever traveling to a city that has a team you may want a jersey from, check out the local Marshall’s. I was in Orlando last week and they had Dwight Howard jerseys there for $9.99. I didn’t want one, but one day someone may see that as a future random jersey.
Keep rockin’ those awesome jerseys and have fun with it. If you’re confident wearing it, and the jersey isn’t of a player who never played for the team (I’m talking to you Brett Favre Cubs jersey guy), you’ll probably be okay. Below, I’ve provided a chart to help guide you with your decisions. As always, if you have any questions, you know where to find me.
Jersey Czar out![related-posts]