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Behind the Numbers | Eric Piatkowski

Eric Piatkowski and family Piatkowski was joined by his family in Lincoln for the retirement of his collegiate number earlier this year.
Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Media Relations Office
Eric Piatkowski, Chicago Bulls

What does a jersey number really mean to a pro athlete? To some, it’s a tribute to a favorite player. To others, it’s a story of personal significance. For Chicago’s Eric Piatkowski, well, it was a matter of practicality.

“Heading into my junior year of high school, they had the twenties, thirties, forties and fifties for us to choose from,” Piatkowski explains. “The fifties were the largest size uniform and that was the only one that would fit me. So I ended up with 52.”

To put things into perspective, Piatkowski was a freshman in high school the same year that Bulls teammate Luol Deng was born: 1985. Thus, the uniforms in those days—the pre-Jordan era, if you will—were characterized by short shorts and tight tops.

For Piatkowski, who was 6-foot-6 as a high school junior, it was a matter of wearing whatever jersey he could get on his body.

The story could have ended there, but it didn’t for the man now known as “The Polish Rifle.” Piatkowski signed a letter of intent with the University of Nebraska, so he was off to Lincoln.

“When I got to college, they basically said that I could have whatever number I wanted,” the 12-year veteran recalls. “Everyone wanted to be 23 for Jordan or 33 for Bird, but I was always a leader, not a follower.”

Behind The Numbers
Gilbert Arenas 0, Wizards
Marcus Banks 3, Timberwolves
Mike Bibby 10, Kings
Andrew Bogut 6, Bucks
Kobe Bryant 8, Lakers
Jarron Collins 31, Jazz
Tony Delk 00, Pistons
Melvin Ely 2, Bobcats
Pau Gasol 16, Grizzlies
Manu Ginobli 20, Spurs
Drew Gooden 90, Cavaliers
Grant Hill 33, Magic
Royal Ivey 36, Hawks
Linton Johnson 43, Hornets
Dikembe Mutombo 55, Rockets
Eric Piatkowski 52, Bulls
Paul Pierce 34, Celtics
Shavlik Randolph 42, Sixers
Earl Watson 25, Sonics
Piatkowski acknowledges that he’s been fortunate to be able to stick with his number 52, a unique commodity for perimeter players, who generally wear lower numbers.

“I take a lot of pride in my number,” he says. “It’s been my number for a long time and I’m fortunate to have been in the league so darn long that I don’t think any guy could take it away from me.”

Recently, Piatkowski realized a moment that many athletes can only dream about when his number was retired by his alma mater. On February 18, 2006, he became just the third player in Nebraska men’s basketball history to have his jersey retired.

“It was awesome,” Piatkowski says of the ceremony. “I took it as a great honor—my numbers were good there, but it’s not just what you do on the court. It’s the type of person you are off the court and your character that the universities take into consideration when they look at honoring someone.”

Piatkowski adds, “If they’re going to put your name, number and picture up on the wall for eternity, you’ve got to earn it.”

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By Adam Fluck