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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.

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.

Jersey NumberPlayer NameJersey NumberPlayer Name
0Russell Westbrook50David Robinson
00Robert Parrish51Boban Marjanović 
1Oscar Robertson Tracy McGrady52Jamaal Wikes
2Moses Malone Kawhi Leonard53Artis Gilmore Daryl Dawkins
3Dwyane Wade Allen Iverson54Horace Grant
4Dolph Schayes55Dikembe Mutombo
5Kevin Garnett56Francisco Elson
6Bill Russell  LeBron James57Mike Muscala
7Carmelo Anthony Nate Archibald58
8Kobe Bryant59Rayjon Tucker
9Bob Pettit60Jonathan Gibson
10Walt Frazier61Bevo Nordmann
11Isaiah Thomas62Scott Pollard
12John Stockton Dwight Howard63Coty Clarke
13Wilt Chamberlain  Steve Nash64
14Bob Cousy65George Ratkovicz
15Vince Carter66Andrew Bogut
16Bob Lanier67Taj Gibson
17John Havlicek68Milt Schoon
18Dave Cowens69
19Willis Reed70Frank Selvy
20Gary Payton71Willie Nauls
21Tim Duncan  Dominique Wilkins72Jason Kapono
22Elgin Baylor Clyde Drexler73Dennis Rodman
23Michael Jordan LeBron James74
24Kobe Bryant  Rick Barry75
25Mark Price76Shawn Bradley
26Kyle Korver77Luka Dončić
27Jack Twyman78
28Alperen Şengün 79
29Paul Silas80
30Steph Curry81José Calderón 
31Reggie Miller82
32Magic Johnson  Karl Malone Shaquille O’Neal83Craig Smith
33Kareem Abdul-Jabbar  Larry Bird  Scottie Pippen84Chris Webber
34Hakeem Olajuwon  Giannis Antetokounmpo  Shaquille O’Neal85Baron Davis
35Kevin Durant86Semih Erden
36Rasheed Wallace87
37Nick Van Exel88Nicolas Batum
38Saben Lee89Clyde Lovellette
39Dwight Howard90Drew Gooden
40Shawn Kemp91Dennis Rodman
41Dirk Nowitzki  Wes Unseld92DeShawn Stevenson
42James Worthy93Metta World Peace
43Jack Sikma Pascal Siakam94Evan Fournier
44Jerry West George Gervin95Juan Toscano-Anderson
45Donovan Mitchell96Metta World Peace
46Bo Outlaw97Eugene Omoruyi
47Andrei Kirilenko98Jason Collins
48Nazr Mohammed99George Mikan
49Shandon Anderson  

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.