Cal announced that former center Darrall Imhoff, the only player off the 1959 national championship team who played in the NBA, will have his jersey No. 40 retired in a halftime ceremony Feb. 14 when Cal faces Stanford at Haas Pavilion.
Many Old Blues will respond that this gesture is long overdue, and I agree. Imhoff is the best player off the best two teams in school history and there is no good explanation for why this didn’t happen sooner. But good for Cal for stepping up and honoring a deserving man.
Cal’s history of retiring jerseys is a controversial one. Few arguments can be made against the jerseys of Kevin Johnson and Jason Kidd hanging from the rafters of Haas Pavilion.
But the decision to retire the jersey of Al Grigsby in 1997 was met with some raised eyebrows. Grigsby was a great representative of the program and a warrior, who overcame a remarkable series of injuries to complete a career that spanned six seasons. It was that spirit that earned him a place alongside K.J. and Kidd.
Long-time Cal fans wondered why other past greats — players with far more impressive credentials than Grigsby — weren’t honored. Imhoff was an obvious choice, but future selections may be few. The athletic department is employing a set of specific criteria to the process, and I’m told that earning an academic degree is required and not negotiable.
That means in an era where the best players often leave school early for sound financial reasons, as Kidd did following his sophomore season, the list of future candidates for possible jersey retirement could be short. The “next” J-Kidd, if there ever is one, wouldn’t qualify.
The university’s rationale is that elite athletes already are honored in the Cal Athletic Hall of Fame, and that jersey retirements should be reserved for special cases.
Here is Cal’s official news release on the Imhoff announcement.