Michael Jordan Day? Please. These are the greatest No. 23s in Detroit sports history

Detroit Free Press

Today is Feb. 3, 2023.

It’s a perfectly innocuous date, at least until you shorten it to just the digits: 2/3/23.

That’s 23-23, or as ESPN (and its ACC Network) has dubbed it: “Michael Jordan Day.” It’s all fine and good, we guess — there are worse ideas than a day devoted to Jordan’s greatest moments … again.

And yet …

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Look, this year has already been a big month for GOATs and their would-be successors: In January, Alex Ovechkin finally passed Gordie Howe for No. 2 on the NHL’s all-time goals list (though not on pro hockey’s career list). On Wednesday, Tom Brady called it quits for the second time — sure, he passed Peyton Manning for career retirements, but he’s still two behind Brett Favre. (Bet on him getting there by the next opportunity for “Tom Brady Day” — Jan. 2, 2112 — which is only 32,474 days away.)

Meanwhile, LeBron James — an on-and-off-again No. 23 — isn’t retiring, but he is closing in on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s NBA scoring record; after his 26 points Thursday night, James needs 63 more to become No. 1, meaning we should have a new scoring champ before Valentine’s Day. (That would be 0214 … which seems more like a day to honor Detroit Tigers hitters, but even they didn’t sink that low last season.)

But before the other No. 23 becomes No. 1, it’s time to tie this back to Jordan.

We won’t deny the former Bull and current Charlotte Hornets owner his due, especially on the day his franchise visits Detroit. After all, Jordan averaged 29.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game in 64 regular-season matchups with the Pistons. And, yeah, his Bulls did, eventually, get past the Pistons in the playoffs, back in May 1991. (After three straight seasons of elimination at the hands of the Bad Boys, which is why Jordan’s career playoff record against the Pistons is 10-12. Ahem.)

But still, c’mon … it’ll be a cold day in, well, y’know, before we here in Detroit happily honor Jordan, NBA GOAT or not. And so, with that in mind, here are the top No. 23s in Detroit sports history, just in case you feel like celebrating a more “313”-centric version of 2/3/23, starting with …

Pistons: Blake Griffin

OK, not exactly starting on the highest of notes, but Griffin averaged 20.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and five assists per game in 138 appearances for the Pistons in 2018-21, making him one of two players to top 20/6/5 in his time with the franchise. (The other is Grant Hill, but we can discuss him on 3/3/33, just 3,681 days from now.)

And sure, Griffin never actually won a playoff game as a Piston, but who has? Seriously, who has?

The franchise’s last postseason win came May 26, 2008; the Pistons’ current No. 23, Jaden Ivey, was 6 years old at the time. Ivey is averaging 15.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.5 assists as a rookie; if he keeps it up, he’ll join three other Pistons rookies in the 15/4/4 club: Hill, Dave Bing and Cade Cunningham. But that’s a topic for the future, just like …

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Red Wings: Lucas Raymond

Raymond isn’t even through his second season wearing the Winged Wheel, yet is already making a claim as the franchise’s top No. 23. His competition, a surprisingly high 38 other Wings, can be distilled to three players.

Marcel Pronovost, the lefty defenseman who won five Stanley Cups, finished in the top five in Norris Trophy voting five times and made the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1978. But he wore No. 23 for just one season: 1950-51, his rookie year in which he hardly looked like a future Hall of Famer, with one goal and six assists in 37 games.

Mathieu Schneider, whose 48 goals and 116 assists in 231 games from 2003-07 are tops among Wings No. 23s. Close behind him is defenseman Brad Stuart, who put up 16 goals and 62 assists in 306 games from 2008-12.

Raymond’s career totals — 31 goals and 51 assists in 130 games — aren’t quite there yet, but he’ll be getting close by the end of this season … and he won’t turn 21 until the end of March. Just in time for the Wings to start talking contract extension so they can keep him around, unlike the Lions and …

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Lions: Darius Slay

The cornerback also known as “Big Play Slay” spent seven seasons as a Lion before management shipped him off to Philadelphia for a pair of 2020 picks. (He’s still in Philly; he’ll be starting next weekend’s Super Bowl in Arizona, while former Lions GM Bob Quinn and former coach Matt Patricia will … not.)

In his Lions stint, he led the league in interceptions and passes defended for a season (2017), earned a first-team All-Pro nod (also 2017) and made three Pro Bowls (2017-19). Come to think of it, one of Slay’s predecessors wearing No. 23 also made multiple Pro Bowls: kick returner Mel Gray, who was honored in 1990, ’91, ’92 and ’94 — right around the time of …

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Tigers: Kirk Gibson

The Michigan State standout (in two sports!) did two stints with the Tigers, covering 1,177 games from 1979-87 and 1993-95; he finished with 195 homers, 194 steals and a .273/.354/.480 slash line. That includes four seasons with 20 homers and 20 steals, the most in franchise history and as many as the next two guys — Curtis Granderson and Alan Trammell — combined.

But Gibson’s defining moment for Detroiters, of course, isn’t about 2/3, but about 10/14, and 8-4 in ’84 — on Oct. 14, 1984, Gibby crushed two homers off the San Diego Padres to clinch the fourth World Series title in franchise history. He did it in style (as you might have heard), winning a tense battle with Padres fireman Goose Gossage in the eighth inning, then delivering a celebratory leap after crossing home to become the iconic image of a magical season.

So, ESPN can have their “Michael Jordan Day” on 2/3/23. But here in Detroit, let’s cue up the Gibby highlights one more time in honor of a time when the Motor City reigned supreme.

After all, we’re only 36,524 days away from the next occurrence of 2/3/23 — Feb. 3, 2123. Maybe by then, we’ll have another Tigers World Series victory to celebrate.

Check out this week’s “Free Press Sports with Carlos and Shawn” podcast, talking the Red Wings’ future with our Helene St. James, and the Lions’ window of opportunity. Subscribe to the show and listen below or on Apple, Spotify or wherever you load up podcasts.

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