Debating the Retiring of Basketball Numbers

Iowa has retired nine numbers. Garza is the 10th. Half of those on the list perhaps shouldn't be on it

When Iowa announced Sunday they were going to retire Luka Garza’s 55 after this season, the vast majority of Iowa fans were very supportive.

If there was ever a player who has earned the retiring of his Hawkeye number, it’s Luka Garza.

On Tuesday, Garza was named The Sporting News Player of the Year.  This is the second time Garza has won the award, as he claimed the honor last year.  The last player to win that award in back to back years was some guy by the name of Michael Jordan.  The other players to earn two-time Sporting News Player of the Year honors were Oscar Robertson, Jerry Lucas, Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton (3x).  Heady stuff.

Garza will also become the first player in program history to be a two-time, First Team Consensus All American.  He is just the third player in program history to earn at least one First Team Consensus All American honor along with Murray Weir being a Consensus AA in 1948 and Chuck Darling earning the honor in 1952.

Let me be clear; the discussion that takes place after this line is unrelated to Luka Garza’s worthiness for this honor. ENTIRELY unrelated as, if you are going to be about the business of retiring numbers, Garza is the only undeniable, irrefutable, undebatable choice in school history.

Here is a list of Hawkeyes that have had their numbers retired:

10-BJ Armstrong
12-Ronnie Lester
21-Carl Cain
22-Bill Seaberg
31-Bill Logan
33-Bill Schoof
40-Chris Street
41-Greg Stokes
46-Sharm Scheuerman
55-Luka Garza

Here is a list of Hawkeyes who have earned First Team All Big Ten honors.

Notice on the list of first teamers some of the names that you do not see that are on the list of retired numbers above;  Bill Seaberg, Bill Schoof and Sharm Scheurman.

Sharm played for Iowa in the 1950’s, so All Big Ten teams were a thing then.  The same can be said for Seaberg and Schoof, Logan and Cain.  They were members of the ‘Fabulous Five‘, a unit that started for Iowa every game from their sophomore to senior seasons and led Iowa to two Final Four’s in 1955 and 1956.   Of the Fabulous Five, the only two that I believe would be in a discussion for jersey retirement today, in 2021 with the benefit of hindsight, would be Cain and Logan, who earned All Big Ten honors.

But it’s difficult to judge the motivations of people from the past, however, you can clearly see that Iowa wanted to honor this unique group of starters who accomplished great things.  While it may seem shortsighted at this current point in time to retire the numbers of three players on a team who were never even All Big Ten, imagine being a fan of the Fabulous Five teams, and how much joy and euphoria those teams brought to Hawkeye fans at the time.  I suspect there would have been very little pushback in the 1950’s at the retiring of the entire group.

Chris Street was never All Big Ten, but his career and life were cut short by incredible tragedy, and he was likely going to be a First Team All Big Ten performer.  Given all that Street embodied on the court, how his work ethic and hustle has gained near mythic proportions and is akin to an archetype for Iowa high school players, Iowa chose to retire his number.  As unpopular as this may sound, this is a debatable topic.  I am good with Street’s number being retired, but I also lived through the time in which his life was cut short and he was a hero to me and many.  50 years from now, Hawkeye fans who knew nothing of Street beyond just what’s in the media guide (the way I look at the Fabulous Five members who were not at least All Big Ten) may see this differently.

Before Garza, Jarrod Uthoff was the most nationally decorated Iowa basketball player in nearly seven decades, and was as Consensus All American, just not a first teamer.   From this Hawk Central item back in 2016:

Uthoff becomes Iowa’s ninth AP All-American and first in 19 years, joining Wier, Darling, Don Nelson (third team, 1962), Sam Williams (third, 1968), John Johnson (third, 1970), Fred Brown (third, 1971), Ronnie Lester (second, 1979) and Andre Woolridge (1997).

Moving on, Ronnie Lester and Greg Stokes were All Big Ten performers, with Lester being a two-time All American.  Thus, I am more understanding of Lester’s number being retired than I am with Stokes. However, Stokes supplanted Lester as Iowa’s all-time leading scorer and scaling such a career milestone was likely Bump Elliott’s (Iowa’s AD at the time) rationale for retiring Stokes’ number.

Which brings us to the elephant in the room, and that is the fact that Roy Marble’s number 23 was never retired.  Marble unseated Stokes as Iowa’s all-time leading scorer in 1989 and Marble’s record stood for nearly 32 years.  Marble was the kind of player that other players of his age were in awe of  and still recall his abilities with reverential tones.  However, Marble was never a first team All American despite being drafted with the 23rd selection of the 1st round of the 1989 NBA draft by the Atlanta Hawks.

BJ Armstrong was also not a first team All American, nor was he ever Iowa’s all time leading scorer, yet his #10 was retired in 1992 (although Joe Wieskamp is wearing it, with Armstrong’s permission) and he was drafted by the Chicago Bulls with the 18th pick of the NBA Draft.  Why would you retire Armstrong’s #10?  In 1992, Iowa likely capitalized off some notoriety of Armstrong having just won an NBA Championship with the Chicago Bulls.  Armstrong was always a squeaky clean guy off the court as well.

The same could not be said for Marble, who had drug related problems that likely submarined a long career in the NBA before his career ever took

Marble failed an NBA drug test in February of his rookie season and was suspended for the entirety of the year.  There were other issues in the early 1990’s related to Marble and the law.  Then in 2014, there were charges of domestic abuse.

I hate writing these things out.  I don’t enjoy any of it.  Roy Marble the Iowa Hawkeye was, and remains, a legend to me and in my mind and I thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with Roy over a decade ago in Des Moines at one of his book signings we were promoting on KXNO.  Yet this ‘number retirement worthiness’ debating is raging on Hawkeye twitter right now, because of a tweet from Roy Devyn Marble from Monday night.

In it, the former Hawkeye and son of the late Roy Marble said “I’ll never watch another Iowa game in my life with the amount of disrespect that school has shown me and my family.  Love the fans, but I’m in no way affiliated or connected to the University.”

Enter Iowa athletic director Gary Barta.

Iowa honored Marble in March of 2015 with a jersey presentation ceremony.  I don’t know what else to call it.  In my opinion, which I have stated before, it was a ham-fisted thing and seemingly only happened because Marble was a dying man, his body riddled with cancer and Iowa wanted to do something.

Here are some snippets of the wording that was used during that time from Gary Barta.

‘While Roy’s number, or jersey, are not being retired today…”  Yeesh.

Then there are these two snippets from the same time:

You can read more on the 2015 Marble ceremony here. Marble would succumb to cancer on September 11th, 2015, just six months later.

Why is Armstrong’s number retired but not Marble’s?  Why would Barta back himself into a verbal corner with his own words from 2015?  Does Devyn Marble have the right to be angry with how he views his father was treated?

It’s complicated, it’s not easy and there will be a wide variety of opinions on this matter.

If I were the Tsar of retiring numbers, my list begins with Garza, Weir and Darling and it might very well end there.

However, I think Iowa should create some clear criteria going forward as to what qualifies as being worthy of number retirement. That way, you remove emotion or potential administration mishaps from the equation.  First Team All American status might be the line of demarcation.

ADDED NOTE:  Since this story was published, Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta spoke on the matter relative to Devyn Marble’s comments:

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