Ask anyone who played sports growing up – or a professional athlete, if one’s handy – what their “number” is. In short order, they’ll give you the number and its significance.
By the time you start playing rec league hoops or maybe the local tavern’s softball team, you’ll probably take whichever number is available. When you’re playing for keeps, the number on your back is serious business.
In the NBA, it’s a matter of marketability. It’s a matter of identity – even for the game’s biggest names.
Several former Cavalier greats have switched numbers throughout their stay, including Campy Russell (Nos. 4, 20, and 21), Terrell Brandon (Nos. 1, 11), Larry Nance (Nos. 22, 6).
Of course, there are six numbers that’ll never be worn again: 42 – Nate Thurmond, 7 – Bingo Smith, 34 – Austin Carr, 22 – Larry Nance, 43 – Brad Daugherty and 25 – Mark Price. (No. 11 may one day join them in the rafters.)
Until then, here’s a look at how and why the Wine and Gold wear the digits they do …
1 – Daniel Gibson – Gibson arrived in Cleveland as a second-rounder from Texas, but veteran Stephen Graham wore the digit that Daniel donned as a Longhorn. When Graham was waived three nights before the opener, Boobie – wearing his position’s number – was born.
Other Cavaliers to Wear No. 1: Terrell Brandon, Wesley Person, Carlos Boozer
2 – Kyrie Irving – You might think it’s because he wore No. 11 in high school or No. 1 at Duke or some permutation thereof, but according to the top pick of the 2011 Draft, “it’s just a random number.”
Other Cavaliers to Wear No. 2: Mo Howard, Mo Williams, Mike Woodson, Jim Jackson, Dajuan Wagner
3 – Ramon Sessions – Speaking of No. 11, that was Ramon Sessions’ number as a high-scoring guard at Nevada. He switched to No. 7 as a pro in both Milwaukee and Minnesota. But Bingo Smith has dibs on that digit in Cleveland, so Ramon went with No. 3, just because “it looked good.”
Other Cavaliers to Wear No. 3: Elmore Smith, Craig Ehlo, Bob Sura, Sasha Pavlovic
4 – Antawn Jamison – You might think Jamison wears No. 4 because that’s where he was selected in the 1998 Draft, but he didn’t start out with it originally.
He wore No. 33 in college because Scottie Pippen was his favorite player, and he carried that number into the pros. But when Jamison got to Washington, he had to give up No. 33. He went with No. 4 because of one of his other favorite players – Chris Webber.
Other Cavaliers to Wear No. 4: Campy Russell, Ron Harper, Shawn Kemp, Chris Mihm, Ben Wallace
5 – Ryan Hollins – The Cavs big man wore No. 15 in college at UCLA and claimed No. 1 as a pro in Dallas and Minnesota. Logically, he completed the trilogy and took No. 5. Another reason he choose the number five, according to Hollins, is because he’s such a great teammate.
Other Cavaliers to Wear No. 5: Jimmy Cleamons, John Bagley, Steve Colter, Earl Boykins
6 – Manny Harris – Harris wore No. 3 in Ann Arbor, but chose No. 6 with the Cavaliers for a very scientific, mathematical reason – because “it was the only single-digit number left.”
Other Cavaliers to Wear No. 6: Larry Nance, Shannon Brown, Mitchell Butler
8 – Christian Eyenga – The high-flying swingman from the Congo grew up with Kobe Bryant – who was still wearing uniform No. 8 at the time – as his favorite player.
Other Cavaliers to Wear No. 8: Lonnie Shelton, Brian Skinner, Mateen Cleaves, Terrence Kinsey
9 – Semih Erden – The second-year center from Turkey is a man of few words, but his deceptively dry humor only requires a few. On why he chose uniform No. 9: “It looks cool.”
Other Cavaliers to Wear No. 9: Randy Smith, Tony Campbell, Dan Majerle
13 – Tristan Thompson – The Cavaliers long, lean freshman from Texas has always worn No. 13 and does so because of his birthday: March 13. Asked if he was worried about a bad luck number, the former Longhorn insisted: “No, it’s actually good luck!”
Other Cavaliers to Wear No. 13: John Amaechi, Donny Marshall, Yogi Stewart, Delonte West
17 – Anderson Varejao – Basketball in Brazil is organized by clubs – junior, senior, etc. When he came up from the junior team in Brazil, the only available numbers at the senior level were 4-through-15, but they were taken by veterans. “So I took 17, and did so well that I just kept it,” smiled the Wild thing.
Other Cavaliers to Wear No. 17: Bobby Washington, Smush Parker
18 – Anthony Parker – Parker, a two-time Euroleague MVP, played five seasons in Israel with the powerhouse, Maccabi Tel Aviv. He chose the No. 18 out of respect and admiration for his time playing there. The number is a symbol associated with life and success in the Jewish faith.
Other Cavaliers to Wear No. 18: Hot Rod Williams, McCoy McLemore
24 – Samardo Samuels – Like Eyenga, the Cavs burly forward based his number on Kobe Bryant, going with his number because of the “24-hour work ethic.”
Other Cavaliers to Wear No. 24: John Lambert, Keith Lee, Chris Dudley, Chris Mills, Andre Miller, Donyell Marshall
33 – Alonzo Gee – When the high-flyer – who wore No. 12 at Alabama – arrived in Cleveland midway through last season, he was offered the choice of No. 23 and No. 33. He chose 33.
Other Cavaliers to Wear No. 33: Bill Willoughby, Derrick Chievous, Mike Sanders, Jumaine Jones, Luke Jackson
36 – Omri Casspi – Like Anthony Parker, Casspi – the first Israeli player ever taken in the first round – wears a version of No. 18 for its significance to his Jewish faith. “Obviously, (Parker)’s the veteran and it’s important to him too,” said Casspi. “So I doubled it.”
Other Cavaliers to Wear No. 36: Paul Thompson
44 – Luke Harangody – The former Domer wears No. 44 simply because it was his dad’s number in high school and proud son Luke has worn that number his whole life.
Other Cavaliers to Wear No. 44: Walt Wesley, Luke Witte, Edgar Jones, Michael Cage, Jiri Welsch