What's In A Number?

David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images

John Focke
Wolves Radio Network Studio Host


What's in a number? How do players decide on the number they will wear? This is a number that may define them for years to come, such as the number 23 that will always belong to Michael Jordan, or the number 99 to Wayne Gretzky, the number 7 to John Elway and here in Minnesota where the number 34 belongs to Kirby Puckett.

For forward Dante Cunningham, the number 33 is a reflection of a player he grew up looking up to.

"The number 33 I have pretty much had it since high school," he said. "I've always watched Patrick Ewing (of the New York Knicks) and his game. He was just a great player and in person, I had a chance to meet him coming out of high school. Before I went to college and he really stuck with me as a person and I wanted to emulate his game going forward."

J.J. Barea has a similar story, only he uses his number 11 to honor one of former teammates.

"My number since I was a kid was 5, all my uniforms were 5, college was 5, but I got to the NBA, in Dallas and someone had 5," Barea said. Josh Howard wore number 5 in Dallas when Barea was drafted. "Number 11 was my right hand man in Puerto Rico. P.J., my teammate in all the leagues I played, he was my best friend, he still is. He was number 11 so I picked up 11, and now I like it so I kept it. All our friends know because he was my right hand man. He doesn't play anymore but when he did we worked pretty well together."

Derrick Williams switched numbers when he was drafted second overall by Minnesota.

"I've always worn 23," Williams said. "High school, college, but I just wanted to change it up a little bit. I felt like 23 should belong to the man himself, MJ (Michael Jordan), so I decided to try to make my own way and do big things with this number 7. Not too many people in the NBA wear number 7, so I'm just trying to do my own thing. That's what I've done my whole career, just try to be a little different than everyone else, do other things. I think number 7 is different, a new slate, so just trying to make this number meaningful."

Foe Chase Budinger, landing in the league offered him a chance to get back to his roots with number 10.

"Number 10 was the number I grew up playing with, my number changed in high school. It went to 34 because there were no other numbers left for me to choose from, and I stuck with that all the way through college. But when I got drafted by Houston that number was retired by Hakeem Olajuwon, so I just went back to my grassroots and chose 10 and loved the number ever since, and probably going to stick with it as long as I can."

Center Nikola Pekovic's road to number 14 was pretty straight-forward.

"It's not a story," Pek said. "I just started to wear it when I was 18. Every club, wherever I was going, they got a free number, what's free number? Fourteen, then I go to Greece, what's free number? Number 14. I said, 'Okay I'll take it.' Then I come here, they ask me, 'What number do you want?' I said, 'What number do you have free?' They said 14, so I said, 'Okay I'll take it.'"

So after all those years with the same number, has it grown on Pek?

"I've got pictures at home, all the different jerseys, all number 14, it's kind of nice."

Much like numbers themselves, each story is unique to each player. Some stories well thought out, others simply stories of chance.



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