It turns out Pat Riley would have had Heat unretire Michael Jordan’s No. 23 for Jimmy Butler

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MIAMI – It turns out the Miami Heat were so intent on signing Jimmy Butler away from the Philadelphia 76ers in 2019 NBA free agency that Heat president Pat Riley offered to remove No. 23 from the rafters.

Michael Jordan’s No. 23.

Butler made the revelation on his Instagram account Sunday, offering an explanation in a video taken during a promotional appearance at a sporting-apparel store.

In discussing jerseys and the numbers he has worn over his career, Butler said, “21 I think is wrap for me. That was just like my Chicago days. I’ll never wear 21 again. You can’t wear 23 here, because of M.J. Literally, Pat Riley retired it. But, I will say this, whenever I did come here, Pat told me that I could wear 23. But I said no.”

Shortly after Butler’s Instagram post, Butler’s agent, Bernie Lee, posted on Twitter, “What’s crazy is this post made me remember I have the jersey. I took it off the manikin that was in the room when we met. I just went rifling thru my office like Doc Brown looking for the drawing of the flux capacitor when I saw this.”

After wearing No. 21 at the start of his NBA career with the Bulls, Butler switched to No. 23 with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers. He now wears No. 22 for the Heat, who next play Wednesday night in the Eastern Conference finals, currently in the midst of a four-day break.

Jordan’s No. 23 is displayed on a south wall at Kaseya Center alongside a No. 13 Miami Dolphins jersey that honors Dan Marino. Those jerseys are featured separately from the numbers that the Heat have retired for Alonzo Mourning (33), Tim Hardaway (10), Shaquille O’Neal (32), Chris Bosh (1) and Dwyane Wade (3).

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When Riley honored Jordan, who only played in the NBA for the Bulls and Washington Wizards, he assured the icon that No. 23 permanently would be taken out of Heat service.

“In honor of your greatness and for all you’ve done for the game of basketball – and not only in the NBA, but for all the fans around the world – we want to honor you tonight by hanging your jersey, forever, No. 23, from the rafters,” Riley said during the No. 23 ceremony. “And no player ever again will ever wear No. 23 for the Miami Heat here. You’re the best.”

Riley would further expand on retiring No. 23 by saying, “Having our guys walk onto the court and look up to see how high you have to climb to reach what he has achieved is something that I think is honorable. I just believe he deserves it. The guy has been the greatest player in the history of the game, and I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea for every team in this league to hang his number in the rafters as a reminder of what greatness is all about.”

Of the honor, Jordan said at the time, “It was by far the best gift I ever could have received. To have your jersey retired in someone else’s building, that says a lot.”

Jordan averaged 30.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists in 38 career games against the Heat.

Prior to Butler’s arrival, LeBron James, upon his Heat arrival in 2010, switched from the No. 23 he had worn with the Cleveland Cavaliers to No. 6.

At the time, James said of the Heat taking Jordan’s No. 23 out of service, “I just think that what Michael Jordan has done for the game has to be recognized in some way soon. There would be no LeBron James, no Kobe Bryant, no Dwyane Wade if there wasn’t Michael Jordan first.”

James then resumed wearing No. 23 upon his return to the Cavaliers, also wearing it at the start of his current tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers.