With Jordan looking on from a third-row seat Thursday night, James scored 34 points to help the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Heat 111-104 in Miami. Afterward, the reigning MVP told TNT he plans to switch his number from 23 to 6 after this season.
"I just think what Michael Jordan has done for the game has to be recognized some way soon," said James, who has worn 23 since he was a high school sophomore. "There would be no LeBron James, no Kobe Bryant, no Dwyane Wade if there wasn't Michael Jordan first.
"He can't get the logo [Hall of Famer Jerry West's silhouette adorns the NBA's logo], and if he can't, something has to be done. I feel like no NBA player should wear 23. I'm starting a petition, and I've got to get everyone in the NBA to sign it. Now, if I'm not going to wear No. 23, then nobody else should be able to wear it."
The NBA has never retired a number similar to what Major League Baseball did with Jackie Robinson's No. 42 and what the NHL did with Wayne Gretzky's No. 99, and it has never considered doing so, putting the matter in the category of uncharted territory.
"Retiring a player's number is a decision that has always been made by the teams," league spokesman Tim Frank said Friday.
Players changing jersey numbers, at least during this decade, are not unprecedented. Jordan briefly switched to No. 45 when he returned to the Chicago Bulls after retiring the first time before going back to No. 23. Bryant, whose No. 24 is among the league's biggest sellers, switched from No. 8 a few seasons ago.
"If you see 23, you think about Michael Jordan," James said, according to The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer. "You see game-winning shots, you think about Michael Jordan; you see guys fly through the air, you think about Michael Jordan; you see fly kicks, you think about Michael Jordan. He did so much, it has to be recognized, and not just by putting him in the Hall of Fame."
There are 13 No. 23s in the NBA. Oklahoma City rookie Byron Mullens, who ended up with the
number after finding his preferred No. 32 was retired by the
organization for Seattle SuperSonics great Fred Brown, is
open to a switch.
"I don't have a problem," Mullens said. "I'm a rookie so I
don't have no say-so. It's Jordan, man. His number should be
retired from the NBA. If it is, then congratulations and good for
him. If it's not, then I guess I'll stick to it. I was kidding
around with my teammates, though. I told them, 'Jordan's going to
have to pay me out.' "
According to NBA rules, James has until March 5 to send a formal request to the league office to change his jersey number. That request, though, would be pertinent only if James re-signs with his hometown Cavs this summer. James is free to pick any available number if he signs with a new team for next season.
James wore No. 6 as a member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic team at the Beijing Games. According to The Plain Dealer, he's also worn the number in Cavs practices in the past two years.
"My second-favorite player was Julius Erving, and he wore No. 6," James said, according to the newspaper. "I wore 32 in high school because Dr. J wore it at first. My first child was born on Oct. 6, it's my Olympic number, my second child was born in June."
Jason Richardson, who wears No. 23 for the Phoenix Suns, wrote on his Twitter feed Friday: "Getting lots of tweets about changing my number 4 MJ. Im all 4 it he's the greatest player to ever play. NBA should of retired 23 yrs ago."
Information from ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein and NBA Insider Chris Sheridan was used in this report.