When people think of numbers in sports, their minds immediately drift towards scores and statistics, but a very important role of numbers in sports are jersey numbers! In the NBA, a player’s jersey number is a part of their identity; a jersey number isn’t just what distinguishes one player from another on the court, but it has a deeper meaning. Some players have a lucky number, others wear it as a tribute to their role model; a jersey number could mean anything or maybe even nothing at all!
What is the most popular NBA jersey number? In the 2022-23 NBA season, the most popular jersey number is the #11, worn by 25 players so far this season. Notable players currently wearing the #11 include Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn Nets, switched to #2 after being traded midseason to the Dallas Mavericks), Jalen Brunson (New York Knicks), Trae Young (Atlanta Hawks), and DeMar DeRozan (Chicago Bulls). Other popular jersey numbers this season include #5 (24 players), #8 (23 players), and #3 (23 players). While frequency of jersey numbers are a way to determine popularity, another way to determine popularity is by recognition; by that metric, #23 is arguably the most popular jersey number of all time, as it was worn by the 2 greatest NBA players ever in Michael Jordan and LeBron James.
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Are there any rules for NBA jersey numbers?
NBA players are generally allowed to pick any jersey number they wish between 0 and 99, but there are a few restrictions. Players are not allowed to wear “retired” numbers – this refers to when a franchise retires a number as a tribute to one of their great players who wore that number. While retired numbers are usually taken out of circulation for good, players can request to wear that number with the permission of the individual who was honored with the jersey number retirement.
Franchises can retire jersey numbers for their own players (ex: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s #33 retired by the Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks), for other legendary players (ex: Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan had his #23 retired by the Miami Heat), or even for other reasons (ex: the Orlando Magic retired the #6 as a tribute to the fans as their “6th man”). Sometimes teams informally retire jersey numbers, by not offering it as part of their circulation even though the number does not hang from the rafters. The NBA can also retire numbers, as they did recently with the #6 league-wide to honor the late Bill Russell (although players who wore #6 can continue to wear it).
Besides that, jersey numbers are mostly good to go. There is only one banned jersey number, which is #69 due to the implication of the number that doesn’t match the league’s family-friendly nature. Teammates cannot share a jersey number, which often results in new teammates trying to negotiate a deal if one can get the other to switch to a different number.
Who are some notable players for each jersey number?
Despite there being many different options for jersey numbers, quite often players gravitate towards the same numbers. As such, there are certain jersey numbers worn by many great players, while other jersey numbers have been worn very rarely by obscure players and sometimes not even touched at all. The below table tries to showcase notable names (or any names really) for each of the jersey numbers.
Despite there being 100 options for jersey numbers, some are definitely more popular than the other. It mostly boils down to what that number means for the player; in many cases, the same numbers are chosen again because that was the jersey number of their favorite player growing up (the #23 is incredibly popular amongst players who grew up watching Michael Jordan). Jersey numbers, despite at its core being a simple measure to differentiate between teammates, have grown to become a valued part of identity by players, fans, and franchises alike.