At the close of the Kansas game, Steve Kerr said that Purdue should simply go back to West Lafayette and immediately retire Rob Hummel's number. This suggestion caught on immediately on Twitter and now with Facebook page devoted to it. We put out there that at Purdue, we don't retire numbers, as no one player is greater than the team.
Sure, there are numbers in the rafters, but those are specific to All-American selections. Those numbers are not retired. At Purdue, Drew Brees' number 15 isn't retired. Neither is John Wooden's 13. But do you have any doubt that those numbers are theirs? Of course you don't.
I remember I learned of the non-retirement policy when I was early in my time at Purdue and Mike Alstott was wrapping up his Boilermaker career. I assumed they would have to honor Mike with a retired number ceremony at some point, only to see someone take on #40 within about a year or two of Mike's departure.
I'm not suggesting Rob doesn't deserve the honor -- understand that. If tomorrow Morgan Burke announces that the number 4 will never be worn at Purdue again, I'll be right there alongside you all cheering the raising of Rob's number to the rafters. But is it necessary? Would Rob want to be the first number officially retired at Purdue? I can't speak for him, obviously, but my guess is he would prefer not.
Rob Hummel was the ultimate team guy. He wanted Purdue to succeed, he wanted his teammates to succeed and he wanted the fans to revel in that success. He wanted to reward Coach Painter's faith and confidence in him and he wanted to take Purdue as far as possible and very far from the dark days of where they were when he was recruited.
I think how Rob is honored has less to do with hanging a number and more to do with how you -- all the fans -- remember and respect him. He's already honored in your hearts, to put a corny phrase on it. The love I've seen from Purdue fans towards Rob Hummel is astounding. He's a guy who has earned that affection and a guy who -- in a time in sports where you often can't say this -- very much deserves it. Every single description of Rob is the same, from people who admire him from afar to the people who know him so well. He's a great guy, a terrific teammate and a bleeding gold and black Boilermaker. You all know that and you treat him as such. Not as a god, but as a Boilermaker. He makes you proud -- that's how you honor a legend.
So you know each time his smiling face is shown at Mackey, each time he comes back for a visit, if he catches on in the NBA and succeeds.... you know that we will all be cheering it and showering him with not only love and praise...but thanks. Thanks for being the guy we all needed him to be. Thanks for being the guy that Purdue needed at a critical time. Thanks for being so easy to root for it was almost hard to believe.
Given all of that, are symbolic gestures like jersey retirements even necessary? If your answer is still yes, then as I said, I won't argue vehemently against it. But if we have to go a symbolic route, what about something befitting of a guy who did things differently from the typical stars in today's game? Something unique.
What Hummel has been for fans and even members of the media is noteworthy. But, what he has personified for current and future Purdue basketball players might be more important- He's obviously a great basketball player who did a lot well and worked very hard and did the little things to become one of the nation's best. He's been a good guy off the court who almost-always had time for fans, especially kids. And lastly, and probably most-importantly, Hummel was a player who fought through adversity, defied odds, never backed down and did it all without complaining. That's being a Boilermaker...In fact, in an ideal world all Purdue players would try to display these traits. So maybe the players should have a reminder close by of what #4 meant to the program at a pivotal time.
I'm certainly open to more ideas and encourage you to share them, but what about an idea like a small "4" somewhere on the court? Along the baseline? Near one of his favorite three-point spots? Or how about, as a team guy, the "4" isn't put in the rafters but is modestly sized and placed on the floor near the Purdue bench? A nod to Rob's legacy at Purdue and what he meant to everyone, with the understanding that he meant the most to that bench of guys?
As I said, I would love to hear other suggestions that are outside the box. Rob was not your typical captain or your typical "star." So why not honor him in a nontypical way as well?