What's In A Number
Social Security Number. Tax ID number. Cell phone number. We are all identified by a number. In basketball, numbers are used on jerseys for identification and record keeping purposes.
But is a jersey number truly only a number? Many athletes pick certain numbers to honor players from past generations. Some pick them for religious reasons. For many athletes, selecting a jersey number is one of the most pressing issues when arriving to a new team. And in some cases, having an unavailable jersey number can even be the deal breaker in contract negotiations.
"I've heard of people who wouldn't sign with a team because they didn't have a particular jersey number. It could be a deal breaker, and I totally understand why," said No. 3, Dwyane Wade. "A number is a big thing for athletes. At the end of the day, a lot of people won't know your name because people associate you with a number. You associate yourself with a number and a lot of things in your life may go around that."
The No. 3 is a significant for Wade, and the number has become a common thread in his life. Wade, a devoted Christian, picked his jersey number in honor of the "Holy Trinity." Wade led Marquette to the '03 Final Four with a triple-double. He was later drafted by the HEAT in 2003 and won the NBA championship and NBA Finals MVP honors in his third season. He also holds the third highest scoring average (34.7 ppg) in NBA Finals history.
What names do you associate with these numbers: 23, 6, 33?
Depending on the generation you grew up watching basketball, these numbers represented three of the greatest: Michael Jordan, Julius Irving, and Larry Bird.
Last year, LeBron James filed paperwork with the NBA to change his uniform number from No. 23 to No. 6. He had said he would be willing to give it up in order to have the entire league retire it in honor of Jordan, who he feels is the greatest basketball player of all-time.
The switch was announced to the world in a post-game ESPN interview, where the Hall of Famer was in attendance.
"I've been thinking about it lately, and what I'm going to do, I think I'm going to change my number next year," he said at the time. "I think no guy in the NBA should ever wear 23. He [Jordan] can't get the NBA logo, so I think his number shouldn't be worn by any player in the NBA," I'm thinking about changing my number just to show what he did for this game; he laid down the stepping stones for everybody to come up through the ranks. That's how much respect I have for a guy like that."
The HEAT, obviously, agrees.
Miami currently has three retired numbers -- No. 33, in honor of Alonzo Mourning; No. 10, in honor of Tim Hardaway; and No. 23, in honor of Jordan.
No. 6 holds special significance to the two-time NBA MVP. His first child was born on the sixth day of October and his second child was born in June, the sixth month of the year. Erving, his second-favorite player behind Jordan, wore the number for the majority of his career.
And James is no stranger to his new number. He wore it for Team USA in international play.
Superstars changing numbers also isn't that rare.
Even Jordan briefly changed his number from No. 23 to No. 45 after coming back from retirement with the Chicago Bulls in 1995. It was in honor of the number he wore for the Birmingham Barons, a minor league team in the Chicago White Sox farm system.
Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant was another superstar to make the switch, from No. 8 to No. 24, in 2006. He initially wanted No. 24 as a rookie because it was his high school number, but it was unavailable at the time.
With the arrival of James to the HEAT, third-year guard Mario Chalmers had a decision to make: give his new teammate the number with or without bargaining methods.
He found no problem handing over the number and making the switch for James. In fact, Chalmers is now able to wear his University of Kansas number, 15, that he donned for three seasons in Lawrence.
"It feels good. I wore 15 in college and most of my basketball career," he said. "It's good to go back to my old number."
The reason for a certain number varies among players. Some choose it because of superstition and others in honor of someone close to them.
Chalmers is no exception. He chose No. 15 because of his mother.
"My mom wore this number when she played, so I just wanted to represent her and wear her number," he said.
When Chalmers first joined the HEAT, Mark Blount wore No. 15, so he took No. 6 instead.
Why? It's simple addition: 1+5=6.
And though some players bargain for a number, which can range from payment to meals, Chalmers didn't do that to his new teammate.
"It was just a: 'Go ahead, you can have this number. Just represent it well,'" he said. "I probably wouldn't even ask him for anything because that's the type of person I am."
The Miami HEAT's other main free agent acquisition, Bosh, changed his number from No. 4 to No. 1 over the offseason.
With the departure of free agent Dorell Wright to the Golden State Warriors, Bosh was able to make the selection. It's a number not often seen on "big men."
Bosh attributed the move to starting anew after spending his entire career with the Toronto Raptors.