If you're ranking, it's probably just above the whole "Standers v. Sitters" debate for Syracuse Orange basketball fans. Yet, similar to the stand/sit fight, the battle over football's No. 44 conjures up strong emotions for Syracuse Orange fans.
Worn by some of the greatest athletes to ever put cleat to grass, the jersey has been out of commision since 2005 -- retired by Syracuse University administration. Meaning the number that has defined Syracuse University athletics is more of a ghost. An almost haunting reminder of what SU football used to be. There is no in-between here for most people, fans seem to either embrace honoring Jim Brown, Floyd Little, Ernie Davis, and
Joe Morris, or fans hate that the number is unable to help make more memories, more special players.
I'm not sure where the basketball side of the debate falls in the order of great debates, I would assume below No. 44 and right around Standers v. Sitters. (Certainly above the battle over the Wave.) Where football has taken out No. 44, basketball "honors" jerseys, it doesn't "retire" them. So, if someone wants Pearl Washington's no. 31, they could do so despite Washington's faux jersey hanging above the court. And fans fight over which player should be honored next and who keeps getting passed over (LAWRENCE MOTEN!).
We know next up is not Syracuse's all-time leading scorer, but, rather, Carmelo Anthony is next in line -- possibly having his jersey "honored" when Syracuse hosts Georgetown next month. But when reports first surfaced it looked as though Anthony's jersey was going to be in the same category as football's No. 44 -- unuseable. In just a few minutes the debate over whether it was the right move waged amongst Orange fans. (Until Manti Te'o just about blew up the internet and our minds.)
For me, it's an easy call to make, if SU wants to retire a player's number, any of the legend's numbers -- retire Anthony's No. 15.
Athletes careers are quantifiable by a lot of categories, but in the end, players are usually summed up by championships. Titles. Rings. Fair or otherwise, winning "it all" changes perception, reality, and legacy. Carmelo Anthony wasn't the only player on the 2002-03 Syracuse Orangemen basketball team, but he was the team's driving force behind the program's only trip to the NCAA mountaintop.
Just look at the numbers: Anthony led SU in points per-game, rebounds per-game, and was third in assists per-game. Plus, while Anthony's attitude was/is often called into question, he was clearly a leader on the court. Showing that and more in earning the Most Outstanding Player of that season's Final Four. How good was he against Texas and Kansas? Anthony scored 53 points in eight quarters in New Orleans. Against Kansas, where the Jayhawks doubled and sometimes triple teamed him, the freshman scored 20 points. And, what a lot of people forget, Anthony pulled down 10 boards and even dished out 7 assists. In a tight game, for the championship, Anthony was a few assists shy of a triple-double!
Anyway, you already knew all of that. Everyone saw just how good Anthony was during his short stay at Syracuse. And we all saw what Carmelo meant to the team, the school, and fans. It was a special time for Syracuse hoops -- unlike any other time in program history -- and Anthony was a special player leading the way. There was Gerry and Hak and Kueth but there was only one Melo.
But it's his short stay in Central New York, one too-quick year, rubs people the wrong way when it comes to retiring Anthony's number, or even just honoring his jersey. How could the school do that before doing the same for Moten, or Stevie Thompson (THIS SHOULD BE DONE), or even Louis Orr (How in the world isn't that done?)? Those guys gave us four years of ups, downs, good times and bad, four years of growth. There's an emotional attachment developed over time. Melo came, conqured, and blew out of town. His jersey hanging next to No. 44 in the Dome could blow some fans gaskets.
But where other, longer-lasting, Syracuse legends tried and came up short, Carmelo Anthony came through. The only one to come through. Knocking aside years of frustration for a school, a fan base, and a legendary coach. Before Anthony Syracuse had flashbacks of 1987, fun memories of 1996, and...no title. No ring.That, as most sports debates go, is the end-all be-all.
SU isn't going to retire the jersey, just honor it, but if the school was ever going to do it, Melo would be the one. His No. 15 should be hanging next to No. 44, above the all the standers and sitters -- a constant reminder of a special time, special memories, a special player, and the national championship.