Ask anyone who’s played sports what their “number” was. They’ll be able to tell you what it is (or was) and why.
By the time you start playing rec league hoops or maybe the local tavern’s softball team, you can take whichever number is available. While you’re playing for keeps, the number on your back is serious business.
In the NBA, it’s a matter or marketability. It’s a matter of identity – even for the game’s biggest names. Kobe Bryant went from No. 8 to No. 24. And next year, LeBron James talked about making his current No. 23 sacrosanct in honor of the original – Michael Jordan.
Several former Cavalier greats have switched numbers throughout their stay, including Campy Russell (Nos. 4, 20, and 21), Terrell Brandon (Nos. 1, 11) and 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. (Two or more current Cavaliers should join them one day.)
But for now, while LeBron is still wearing his iconic numeral, here’s a look at how and why the Wine and Gold wear the digits they do …
- Darnell Jackson
– When Jackson – who wore No. 32 as the starting four for National Champion Kansas Jayhawks – was drafted by the Cavaliers, they were still keeping that number warm for Joe Smith. So D-Block went for “00” because it was “different and kind of cool.”
Other Cavaliers to Wear No. 00: Milos Babic, Benoit Benjamin
- Daniel Gibson
– Gibson was originally No. 21 when he arrived in Cleveland as a second-rounder from Texas. 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
- Mo Williams
– Mo Williams wore No. 25 in high school, college, when he was drafted by Utah and later with the Bucks. But that number belongs to another crafty, All-Star point guard – Mark Price. Mo was given the option of either “2” or “5.” He went with the deuce.
Other Cavaliers to Wear No. 2: Mo Howard, Mike Woodson, Scott Brooks, Jim Jackson, Dajuan Wagner
- Coby Karl
– The son of former Cavalier coach, George Karl, explained that he’s usually one of the last guys to make the team – he was even a walk-on at Boise State – so he gets “what’s left.” So Karl went with his college number – “5.”
Other Cavaliers to Wear No. 5: John Bagley, Steve Kerr, Jimmy Cleamons, Earl Boykins
- Zydrunas Ilgauskas
– The Cavaliers veteran big man began wearing No. 11 as a tribute to his hero (and homeboy) – legendary Lithuanian center, Arvydas Sabonis. Like Z (as well as Linas Kleiza and Šarunas Jasikevicius) Sabonis was born in the city of Kaunas.
Of course, Ilgauskas will be the last player who’ll wear the double-sticks for the Cavaliers.
Other Cavaliers to Wear No. 11: Walt Frazier, Cliff Robinson, Kevin Johnson, Mike Sanders, Terrell Brandon
- Delonte West
– When he was originally drafted by the Celtics, Delonte wanted 15, but it was retired (Tommy Heinsohn). Delonte was friends with Eddie Basden (who actually was a Camp invitee in Cleveland) – and the two always dreamed of getting to the NBA together. West reached the pros while Basden was still at UNC-Charlotte, wearing No. 13.
Delonte told him, “I’m going to wear 13 and every time you see me play, that’s time to come on. I’m waiting on you.”
Other Cavaliers to Wear No. 13: John Amaechi, Yogi Stewart
- Danny Green
– Danny Green’s number is actually generated from the gridiron. At his high school back in Long Island – North Babylon – the No. 14 is revered, saved for the team’s best player. Thing is: Even as a promising freshman QB, Danny Green never wore it on the football field. But he took that piece of North Babylon with him to Chapel Hill and Cleveland.
Other Cavaliers to Wear No. 14: Foots Walker, Bobby Phills, Ira Newble
- Jamario Moon
– Wore No. 8 in Miami and 33 with the Raptors – both because his favorite player, Scottie Pippen. (No. 8 was Pippen’s Olympic number.) The number “15” was the first number he wore with a professional team, the Mobile Revelers, in the D-League.
Moon joked: “I should have just taken ‘33’ from Shaq!”
Other Cavaliers to Wear No. 15: Cornell Warner, Dave Sorenson, Roger Phegley, Matt Harpring
– 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
- 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
- J.J. Hickson
– The young power forward is a man of few words, but makes them count. “I was No. 2 in high school and No. 1 in college,” said the sophomore sensation. “That’s it.”
Other Cavaliers to Wear No. 21: Campy Russell, World B. Free, Darius Miles
– LeBron James
– To a generation of kids, LeBron James is
No. 23. But recently, the young King – out of deference and respect to Michael Jordan – has elected to change his number to “6” next season. It’s the number James wore in the Olympics, wears every day on the practice court and that of his second-favorite player, Julius Erving.
“I’ve worn No. 23 because I’ve always loved Michael Jordan,” said James recently. “I wore it even before high school. But ‘6’ is another number I love.”
Other Cavaliers to Wear No. 23: Chris Dudley, Tyrone Corbin, John Morton, Derek Anderson
- Jawad Williams
– Jawad Williams wore No. 21 at North Carolina, but when the local product signed with Cleveland, he returned to his hometown origins, going with 31 – which he donned at St. Ed’s.
Other Cavaliers to Wear No. 31: Ricky Davis, Scot Pollard, Randolph Keys
– Shaquille O’Neal
– The Diesel – who was No. 34 with the Lakers and No. 32 with the Heat – went back to the future with No. 33, which he last wore in Orlando and before that as a prep phenom at LSU.
“Life is a circle,” O’Neal explained. “I started off with ‘33’ as a youngster and now, towards the end of my career, I’m going back to ’33.’ I’m going to go out like I came in.”
Other Cavaliers to Wear No. 33: Bill Willoughby, Luke Jackson, Mike Sanders
- Leon Powe
– The Cavaliers numerical superior with No. 44, donned the Donut in Boston. The rugged forward – currently rehabbing his knee for a late-season return – also chose to return to his roots.
“No. 44 was my childhood number,” explained Powe. “I wore ‘0’ in Boston. But I wanted a fresh start and I wanted to go back to what was working for me when I was younger, in college and playing in AAU. I’m just trying to bring back the old beast in me.”
Other Cavaliers to Wear No. 44: Walt Wesley, Luke Witte, Michael Cage, Jiri Welsch and of course, the irrepressible Edgar Jones