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A Numbers Game


Which jersey numbers have been worn best in the NBA?


A jersey number is a point of pride for any basketball player and often a source of inspiration. Many players grow up wearing the numbers that their idols did, and it is little wonder that some of the most iconic jersey numbers have seen their fair share of representation in the League. Here is a look at the most memorable numbers in NBA history


1: The list starts off with its primary number, worn with distinction in Orlando by a pair of exciting young stars: Anfernee ‘Penny’ Hardaway and Tracy McGrady. Other luminaries include Chauncey Billups and his Finals MVP performance, Derrick Rose and his MVP season as well as Rod Strickland, ‘guaranteed to make them jump’ in the words of the Wu-Tang Clan. The list must end with the ‘Big O’, Oscar Robertson, who captured his lone title wearing #1.


10: 10 is an underrated number in jersey greatness, but it has been seen on the backs of greats such as Walt Frazier, Earl ‘The Pearl’ Monroe in his Washington days and Philadelphia assist-guru Mo Cheeks. As with #1, this appears to be a favorite among guards, with DeMar DeRozan and Eric Gordon keeping the torch alive today. With #8 and #24 both left off the list, it will be unthinkable to not point out that Kobe Bryant chose this jersey number in his time with Team USA. 


21: This number defined the post battles of the 90s and 00s, with two transcendent talents in Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. Before their time, this number belonged to Dominique Wilkins and his high-flying antics. Two young bigs are shouldering the load today – Joel Embiid and Hassan Whiteside.


23: Few have dared to wear this number since ‘His Airness’ left the game, but a suitable heir has been ‘King James’ in both his Cleveland stints. Anthony Davis and Jimmy Butler both proudly sport this number too, but the original #23 would be Calvin Murphy, the 5-foot-9 Hall-of-Famer and scoring machine.


32: Magic Johnson is the first name that comes to mind here, but Karl Malone, Kevin McHale, Bill Walton and their endless post moves could not be left off the list. ‘Part-time’ wearers include the Doctor (who also wore #6 with distinction), Jason Kidd (#2 and #5) and Amar’e Stoudemire (#1). Among active players, Karl-Anthony Towns is the standard-bearer for this group.


33: Putting in a solid case for the best number of all-time, #33 is stacked with Hall-of-Famers, including Magic’s nemesis Larry Bird and the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. There are almost too many legends to name here: Scottie Pippen, Patrick Ewing, Grant Hill, Alonzo Mourning, David Thompson… the list just goes on and on. With the number having been retired by several teams, Marc Gasol and Myles Turner represent the modern-day hopefuls here.


34: Rounding off the streak of consecutive numbers (with Shaquille O’Neal having worn all three numbers during his career) is #34, with literal heavyweights such as O’Neal, Charles Barkley and Hakeem Olajuwon. A pair of Celtics teammates fit here as well, in Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. Giannis Antetokounmpo is carrying the mantle for active players as he makes his case for League MVP.