You may have noticed that many NBA players wear the same jersey numbers. Over the years, it’s noticeable that some jersey numbers are more popular than the rest. Number 3, for example, is a trendy number for guards.
However, have you ever stopped and thought about the numbers often left unused in the NBA? If so, read on as we’ll reveal which numbers have never seen the light of day in an NBA game.
Has Every Number Been Worn in the NBA?
While the NBA has had over 4,000 players throughout its history, you’d think all legal numbers from 00-99 have already been used at least once. However, you’d be surprised to know that there are still a few numbers that players seem to steer clear of.
To be more direct, no. Not every number has been worn in the NBA. If you want to learn which numbers, then read on.
How Do Jersey Numbers Work in the NBA?
But before we dive into which numbers haven’t been used in the NBA, we need to learn about the rules governing its usage.
NBA jerseys may be made from different materials and colors, but they all have one thing in common: they must have a player’s jersey number legibly printed on the back and front of the uniform. The number must be visible from the stands, so it not only needs to be large enough, but it must also be printed in a color that contrasts the fabric. This ensures that coaches, opponents, officials, and fans can quickly identify the players on the court.
Generally, players have the freedom to choose their own two-digit numbers, from 00-99, with the approval of team executives. Fun fact: George Mikan has worn the highest number in the NBA by using 99 throughout his career. However, no two players from the same team can wear the same number. So, if a player gets traded to a team where his preferred number is already taken, one of them has to make a change.
In the NBA, jersey numbers are more than just a way to identify a player on the court. They are also a form of self-expression, with many players choosing numbers that have personal meaning. For example, Dwyane Wade famously wears the number 3 in honor of his late cousin Darone, who was killed in a drive-by shooting when he was just 16 years old.
Similarly, many players choose their number based on their birthday or the day they were drafted. Others pay tribute to their favorite players from childhood or those who have inspired them in their own careers. In any case, jersey numbers are much more than just a piece of clothing for NBA players. They are a way to express themselves and connect with their roots.
So, it’s not a surprise when news comes up about players buying, selling, or gifting jersey numbers to incoming teammates. Michael Jordan, for example, had to pay a $100,000 fine just to use his own number 23 because the Bulls retired it when he took his hiatus from the NBA.
What is the Most Worn Number in the NBA?
There are a few things to consider when determining the most worn number in the NBA. One is the popularity of the number itself; another is the number of players who have worn it throughout the years. Based on these factors, it’s safe to say that the most popular number in the NBA is probably number 23. Michael Jordan made this number famous during his illustrious career with the Chicago Bulls, and many other great players have since donned number 23, including another NBA All-Time superstar, LeBron James. It’s no wonder, then, that this number is so popular among NBA players.
However, when it comes to sheer numbers, the most-worn numbers in NBA history are numbers 12, 5, and 11 cumulatively across the 4000+ players who have played in the league. Although it’s important to note that these numbers may not be the most worn every season, they’re definitely fighting for the top spot all-time.
In the current season, the most worn numbers are 5 and 8, each with at least 25 players choosing to wear it on the court regardless of their position. However, once we consider the player’s position, you’d be able to see some discernable trends.
There may also be exciting insights to be gleaned from a player’s number choice in the context of their position made notable by discernable trends. For example, Point Guards and Shooting Guards tend to choose numbers 3 and 1, respectively, each with at least 10 active players using them. On the other hand, Forwards seem to prefer the number 8, with at least 10 active players wearing the number for both Small Forward and Power Forward positions. As for Centers, 13 seems to be the go-to number, with 6 players opting for the lucky number.
What Jersey Numbers Have Never Been Worn in the NBA?
On the other hand, the least worn numbers in the NBA are much easier to determine. If you dig through NBA history, you will find that some numbers have never been worn, such as numbers 58, 59, 64, 69, 74, 75, 78, 79, 80, 82, 87, and 97.
However, note that number 69 almost had a taker in Dennis Rodman when he got traded to the Dallas Mavericks in the 90s. It was only thwarted by then-commissioner David Stern, citing the player’s flamboyant reputation and the number’s double entendre. However, the rest of the numbers on this list simply has not struck a chord with any NBA player yet.
Famous Basketball Players Jersey Numbers
Some jersey numbers have become synonymous with the NBA greats that donned them on the court through the years. For example, the numbers 34 and 33 will always be remembered for the dominant centers that wore them like a superhero logo on their chest. The iconic number 23, on the other hand, will forever be entangled with the name Michael Jordan no matter which team it is used.
So, to give us some idea about the most popular players and their jersey numbers, we’ve compiled a list of the best jersey numbers in basketball.
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The number 33 may not be the most worn number in the NBA, but it’s definitely one of the best jersey numbers in basketball. It’s been worn by some of the greatest players in NBA history. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Larry Bird are just a few of the Hall of Famers who have donned the number. They both have been considered at one point the best of their generation. Others who have worn the number are also superstars in their own right. Players like Grant Hill, Scottie Pippen, and Alonzo Mourning are also highly successful. Between these players, there are countless championships, individual awards, and accolades, making it not just one of the best jersey numbers in basketball.
These days, you’ll spot the number 33 on players like Kyle Kuzma, who’s on the rise to stardom in his own right.
Let’s not beat around the bush and just admit that Michael Jordan is considered by many to be the greatest basketball player of all time. Because he wore the number 23 throughout his career, the number has become synonymous with the legend himself. It has become a popular number for players of all levels, from young kids just starting out to professional athletes.
It’s made even more popular these days as Lebron James, another player who also wears number 23, poses a challenge to His Airness’s legacy as the greatest of all time (GOAT). Between these two players and the meteoric rise of slam dunk champion Jason Richardson, the number 23 has become cemented as one of the most popular numbers in the game.
When it comes to modern NBA guards, the most popular number is undoubtedly number 3. It was started by Allen Iverson in the 90s, and ever since then, there has never been an era where a guard wearing a jersey number 3 wasn’t dominating the guard position.
When Iverson retired, other guards who also wore number 3 picked up the cudgels and began to dominate the league as he did. Dwayne Wade, for example, once admitted in an interview that the man people called “The Answer” was one of the reasons he chose number 3 in the first place. These days, the legacy of the number is being carried by another veteran All-Time point guard in Chris Paul, who’s incidentally currently at the number 3 in career assists.
And with the emergence of star players like Bradley Beal and the promising young rookie in Josh Giddey, the relevance of number 3 in the guard spot will continue for many years to come.
If there’s a number that resonates with the league’s big men, it has to be the number 34. It’s been worn by some of the best big men to ever play the game in Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Charles Barkley. Several others in different positions have also made their mark in the league, such as the likes of Ray Allen and Paul Pierce in the small forward position.
But if anyone can be credited as the genesis of the number’s popularity, it has to be Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon. He’s often on the fringes of the GOAT debate, and rightfully so. Back in his days, he terrorized the defense with his post moves that modern big men and even guards would struggle to recreate today.
These days, the legacy of number 34 is carried by Milwaukee Buck’s superstar, Giannis Antetokounmpo – another center with uncanny mobility for a 7-footer.
Between Karl Malone, Kevin McHale, and Magic Johnson, the number 32 is already a formidable number to contend with. But it isn’t just these 3 All-Time greats who’ve worn the number.
All-Stars like Blake Griffin, Rip Hamilton, and Bill Walton have also put on jersey number 32 for their respective teams. We haven’t even mentioned Shaquille O’Neal again because he wore 32 for in his earlier days with the Orlando Magic, making it one of the most feared numbers in the NBA.
Wrapping Things Up: What is the Least Worn Number in the NBA?
In the NBA, players can choose any number they want to wear on their jerseys. While this might seem like a simple decision, some players give a lot of thought to which number they will choose.
For some, it’s a chance to honor a past great who wore the same number. For others, it’s a way to make a statement or pay tribute to a personal connection. Whatever the reason, certain numbers have become more desirable than others.
Unfortunately, some numbers aren’t as desirable as others. Despite its long history, this leaves around 12 numbers still unused in the NBA.
So, what’s the story behind your favorite NBA player’s number? Do they have a personal connection to it, or is it just because they think it looks cool? No matter the reason, it’s always fun to learn a little more about our favorite players and their unique numbers.
If you’re interested in finding out which number was worn the most in the NBA, check out this guide.