Ain’t Nothing But A Number

Penny Hardaway

A Penny for a quarter? It doesn’t have the same ring to it. No. 25 could have been Hardaway’s signature number if it wasn’t for a former Orlando Magic teammate.

Alonzo Mourning

No. 6 may be hanging from the rafters at the AmericanAirlines Arena one day. But if 33 wasn’t available when Zo first arrived in Miami in 1995, it may have been his name on back of the No. 6 jersey.

Dorrell Wright

Dorell Wright wanted No. 3 when he arrived, but the number already belonged to Dwyane Wade.

Wade in High School

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Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant

Dwyane Wade couldn't wear his defining number in high school. But even back then the No. 3 was making a difference. Do the math and you'll find that the No. 3 was still the difference maker.

Alexander Johnson

Alexander Johnson wanted No. 32 when he signed during the off-season, but there was one big reason why he couldn't get the 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 for superstitious reasons. 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 team 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, who dribbles the ball three times before shooting every free throw, led Marquette to the 03 Final Four with a triple-double. He later joined the Miami 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 and is a three-time NBA All-Star.

But not every player has deep meaning behind their jersey number. For some players, like guard/forward Penny Hardaway, picking a number just made cents.

Hardaway, who entered the league in 1993 with the Orlando Magic, wanted No. 25, which belonged to teammate Nick Anderson. The number he picked in return worked out much better.

I wore No. 25 in college, so naturally when I arrived in Orlando, I wanted that number, he said, but Nick Anderson had it. I decided to go with No. 1 because of my name, Penny.

Hardaway wore No.1 throughout his NBA career and saw four All-Star appearances in that jersey number. When he signed with the HEAT last off-season, he wanted to stay with the number that defined his NBA career, but the number was already taken by guard/forward Dorell Wright. Wright, however, offered the number to Hardaway, but an NBA rule on number changes forced Hardaway to pick an available number, which is why he chose No. 7.

When you accomplish certain levels of success in a number, you want that number to always be a part of you, said Hardaway. In a way, you're bringing that success with you when you're wearing it.

So what do players do when they can't have the number they want? Some listen to friends and family's advice to pick another number while others have to get creative.

Wright, whose family-given nickname is "D3", grew up playing basketball and baseball wearing No. 3. When he was drafted by the HEAT in 2004, he turned to love ones for advice on a jersey number.

I started wearing the No. 3 in baseball long before I started wearing it in basketball, said Wright. The number has always been with me. When I was drafted and found out my No. 3 was gone, I went with No. 1. I chose that number because my family and friends wanted me to pick it.

When No. 14 Daequan Cook couldn't get his favorite jersey number in high school, he decided to double up to bring the essence of his jersey number with him.

When I played AAU basketball growing up, I wore the No. 7, which was my favorite number,he said. When I began playing high school basketball I wanted the same number, but it wasn't an option at my school. So I said to myself, why not double it? Ever since then No. 14 has been the number I have worn except for Ohio State because someone already had it.

When forward Alexander Johnson signed with the HEAT he knew there was one big reason why he couldn't have the number he has worn for his entire basketball career.

I wanted No. 32 but I couldn't have it because Shaq already had it, he said. That's been my number all my life. It was the first jersey number ever given to me so I stuck with it.

He decided to go with No. 13 because it reminds him of the day he became a free in 2007.

Many players pick their number in honor of NBA greats who played before their time. Alonzo Mourning, however, wears his legendary No. 33 in honor of one of Miami's fiercest rivals - former New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing.

It's a Georgetown thing. I've worn it since high school, he said.

Although he is attached to the number, he would easily give it up under the right circumstances. The number he would pick? The answer adds up.

I would have to get No. 6. The threes in 33 add up to six, he said.


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