Ranking the Best Jersey Numbers in NBA History

Faizan Qurashi@@FaizanQurashiAnalyst IIAugust 9, 2011

Ranking the Best Jersey Numbers in NBA History

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    An NBA player's jersey number is one of the first things our eyes are locked onto while watching an NBA game. And so, with that, I began to ponder over which number in NBA history is the best number ever.

    There are a couple of things I'd like to address before I start the slideshow:

    -There are no bench players on the list who have made little impact in the league and won titles (i.e. Brian Scalabrine, Brian Cardinal, etc.)

    -Players must have worn their number for the majority of their careers (ex. Kobe Bryant counts as a player wearing No. 8, since he has worn it longer than his current No. 24).

    -Logic is based on hard facts such as All-Star games, championships and level of talent of player.

    So without further ado, here we go... 

10. No. 7

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    Notable players who wore/wear No. 7:

    Pete Maravich

    Jermaine O'Neal

    Kevin Johnson

    Juwan Howard

    Lamar Odom

    Brandon Roy

    No. 7 is a pretty popular number in current times, as many of the active players now don the lucky No. 7. Pete Maravich is easily the best out of this group, as he's a Hall of Famer and has his number already retired. Jermaine O'Neal is another formidable name that made the No. 7 relevant in his prime All-Star days with the Indiana Pacers

    We also have a formidable sixth man in Lamar Odom. Brandon Roy would have been another big name on this list, but sadly he isn't the player he used to be. At least it wasn't because of his number. All in all, No. 7 has been, or is being, donned by some talented players.

    Combined All-Star Games: 18 

    Combined Championships: 0 

    Best player to ever wear No. 7: "Pistol" Pete Maravich 

9. No. 4

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    Notable players who wore/wear No. 4:

    Antawn Jamison

    Chris Webber

    Joe Dumars

    Jerry Sloan

    Chris Bosh

    No. 4 makes it way on to the list and, even though it may not seem as apparent, it's a pretty decent number considering all the All-Stars who have worn it—the most notable players being Joe Dumars and Chris Webber. Dumars was a multiple-time All-Star as well as an NBA Finals MVP with the Detroit Pistons

    Currently, the only All-Star who wears No. 4 is Antawn Jamison, and his best days are behind him. Still, with a decent amount of a talent, and two Hall of Famers in Jerry Sloan and Joe Dumars, No. 4 makes it way onto the list.

    Combined All-Star Games: 21

    Combined Championships: 2

    Best player to ever wear No. 4: Joe Dumars

8. No. 22

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    Notable players who wore/wear No. 22:

    Clyde Drexler

    Elgin Baylor

    Larry Nance

    Dave DeBusschere

    Tayshaun Prince

    Rudy Gay

    Next up on the list is double-two. No. 22 has some history behind it, even though the numbers before and after it seem to have had more success. Clyde Drexler and Elgin Baylor are two of the best to ever don No. 22 and both are Hall of Famers. Other notable players on this list are borderline All-Stars in Rudy Gay and Tayshaun Prince.

    Combined All-Star Games: 36

    Combined Championships: 2

    Best players to wear No. 22: Clyde Drexler and Elgin Baylor

7. No. 23

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    Notable players who wore/wear No. 23:

    Michael Jordan

    Calvin Murphy

    LeBron James

    Jason Richardson

    Marcus Camby

    Yes, I'm as surprised as you are as to why I'm ranking the legendary No. 23 so low. Let me explain. No. 23 hasn't had a whole lot of successful players wear it outside of some of the more obvious ones. Currently, the best player wearing No. 23 is Jason Richardson, which is kind of disappointing.

    Still, with two all-time greats in Michael Jordan and LeBron James, No. 23 is nothing to be ashamed of. Just those two alone make this number worthy, and even though LeBron James is no longer wearing this number, it has been good to him up until now. Honestly speaking, had it not been for Michael Jordan, this number probably would not have even made the list.

    Combined All-Star Games: 22  

    Combined Championships: 6

    Best player to ever wear No. 23: Michael Jordan 

6. No. 3

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    Notable players who wore/wear No. 3:  

    Chris Paul

    Dwyane Wade

    Allen Iverson

    Dennis Johnson

    Gerald Wallace

    Drazen Petrovic

    Ben Wallace

    Ah, the infamous No. 3. It's been a hit since Day 1 in the league. Many special talents have had the privilege to don this number, and many will have the honor to have it retired. Allen Iverson put the No. 3 on the map when he began dominating the league in his prime days. Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade have carried the honor ever since. All three will most likely have their No. 3 retired by their respective franchises. 

    Other talents who have gone under the radar have been four-time All-Star and four-time Defensive Player of the Year, Ben Wallace. Dennis Johnson also makes the list after his Hall of Fame career, and Drazen Petrovic may have had a Hall of Fame career if his life hadn't ended so quickly.

    Combined All-Star Games: 30 

    Combined Championships: 5

    Best player to ever wear No. 3: Dwyane Wade

5. No. 21

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    Notable players who wore/wear No. 21:

    Kevin Garnett

    Tim Duncan

    Dominique Wilkins

    Vlade Divac

    Dave Bing

    Jamaal Magloire

    I'd like to call No. 21 the number of the big man, due to the fact that the giants who have wore this historic number have made it relevant. You have three Hall of Famers and all-time greats in Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Dominique Wilkins. All three made a notable impact in their careers while donning the great No. 21. 

    Others such as Vlade Divac and Jamaal Magloire have had more than respectable careers making a few All-Star teams. However, the cream of the crop are the two big men in KG and Duncan, and even though Garnett no longer wears No. 21, he'll more than likely have that number retired by his beloved T'wolves.

    Combined All-Star Games: 43

    Combined Championships: 5

    Best player to ever wear No. 21: Tim Duncan

4. No. 1

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    Notable players who wore/wear No. 1:

    Oscar Robertson

    Derrick Rose

    Nate Archibald

    Penny Hardaway

    Tracy McGrady

    Chauncey Billups

    Amare Stoudemire 

    Baron Davis

    Numero Uno. This is a number that has been dominated by guards, the most notable being Hall of Famer and all-time great, Oscar Robertson. It has also produced some dominating playmakers in Tracy McGrady, Penny Hardaway and the current incumbent of No. 1, the NBA MVP Derrick Rose. 

    The only All-Star big man to wear No. 1 has been Amare, who switched over to No. 1 from No. 32 back in '06-07 and has been a beast ever since. No. 1 has been a pretty popular and successful number in terms of talent and accolades.

    Combined All-Star Games: 44 

    Combined Championships: 3

    Best player to ever wear No. 1: Oscar Robertson

3. No. 34

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    Notable players who wore/wear No. 34:

    Shaquille O'Neal 

    Hakeem Olajuwon

    Charles Barkley

    Ray Allen

    Paul Pierce

    Talk about a gargantuan number. No. 34 is dominated by its Hall of Fame bigs. Shaquille O'Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon are two of the top-five best big men to ever play the game. Charles Barkley isn't far behind as a top-20 all-time talent. 

    Paul Pierce and Ray Allen each will be into the Hall of Fame once their historic careers end. You know a number is a success when it has been worn by five current and future Hall of Famers.

    Combined All-Star Games: 52 

    Combined Championships: 8

    Best Player to ever wear No. 34: Hakeem Olajuwon 

2. No. 32

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    Notable Players who wore/wear No. 32:

    Kevin McHale

    Magic Johnson

    Billy Cunningham

    Jerry Lucas

    Bill Walton

    Karl Malone

    Blake Griffin

    Rip Hamilton

    You're probably thinking, how is No. 32 not in first place, when it has been worn by six all-time greats and Hall of Famers. An amazingly successful number, it has been worn by the greatest point guard of all time in Magic Johnson and arguably the greatest power forward of all time in Karl Malone.

    Recently, it hasn't been successful in terms of being worn by All-Star talents. Blake Griffin though, is the one notable exception, who had a monster rookie season, being named an All-Star and looks to have a Hall of Fame career ahead of him.

    NOTE: Shaq is the one notable exception I've used to my rule. He wore No. 32 for 10 seasons, and No. 34 for eight seasons. However, his No. 34 is more likely to be retired than his No. 32 which is why I've listed him in the No. 34 slide.

    Combined All-Star Games: 48  

    Combined Championships: 13

    Best Player to ever wear No. 32: Magic Johnson 

1. No. 33

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    Most notable players who wore/wear No. 33:

    Larry Bird

    Scottie Pippen

    Kareem Abdul Jabbar

    Danny Granger

    Alonzo Mourning

    Patrick Ewing

    David Thompson

    Grant Hill

    Wow. Talk about a legendary number. Numerous Hall of Famers, countless All-Star teams and much more. No. 33 is about as successful as a number can get. Larry Bird and Kareem Abdul Jabbar are two of the top-10 of all time. Scottie Pippen, Alonzo Mourning and Ewing also make the list for top 50 players of all time. David Thompson is another legend who people tend to forget about. 

    Grant Hill was an absolute stud when he rocked No. 33 in his earlier days. Danny Granger is currently the only All-Star wearing No. 33, but that's probably because it's already been or going to be retired in many franchises. No. 33 is the best number in basketball.

    Combined All-Star Games: 60

    Combined Championships: 15

    Best Player to ever wear No. 33: Larry Bird