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Switching It Up


To change or not to change?


For many basketball players, their jersey number is one of the most sacred components of their game. Part life story, part superstition, and part obsession, it usually represents a lifelong commitment to a number that truly belongs to them. For some of the greatest NBA players however, no such taboo exists and they gladly switch their numbers during their career. Here are the outcomes behind some of the most famous changes.


Kobe Bryant: The legendary Laker wore #24 and #33 in high school, but the former was taken while the latter was retired when he joined the team. The then-teenager decided to wear #8 as he did in his youth growing up in Italy, before switching back in recognition of his growth and the need to work all day, every day. The ‘Black Mamba’ did so well in both numbers that the Lakers decided to retire both at the same time.


LeBron James: When James left Cleveland for Miami, he decided to move from #23 to #6 in honor of Michael Jordan. When he eventually returned to Cleveland, the number 23 returned as well, along with an eagerly-anticipated first title for the franchise. Regardless of the reason for the change, Cavaliers fans will not be complaining.


Michael Jordan: When he returned from his professional baseball stint, Jordan decided to wear #45 in the memory of his late father, who had only seen him play in #23. The following season, the number 23 returned for Jordan with similar success as he began the second of his three-peats.


Kevin Garnett: The lanky forward was a game-changer in #21 for the Timberwolves, but decided to change to #5 with the Celtics as a symbol of teamwork with five players coming together on the court. This team-first approach brought Boston and Garnett a title before he switched to #2 as a tribute to the late Malik Sealy and then back to #21 as he retired in Minnesota.


Dennis Rodman & Ron Artest: The two wild ones have made it almost impossible to identify one number as theirs, with Rodman having worn four different numbers (#10, 70, 73, 91) while Artest triumphs with seven (#15, 23, 37, 51, 91, 93, 96). On top of that, the two have chosen some out-there numbers with equally quirky logic. Rodman chose to wear #91 in his Bulls days because 9 and 1 added up to #10, which was retired by Bob Love. For Artest, #37 was symbolic of the number of weeks that Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ album spent at number one on the charts, while #91 was a fitting tribute to his similarly-unorthodox idol Rodman.