Back in 2015, the team at Mitchell & Ness decided it would be fun to debate the greatest player to wear every jersey number in the NBA, and so the image below was published in Slam Magazine and undoubtably was the centre of never-ending heated arguments amongst NBA fans all over the world.
5 years later, now that the calendar has flipped to 2020, we thought it would be fun to look back at this list and see if we still agree with their choices and if any challengers have knocked off the incumbent’s from their number’s!
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Who were chosen as the Best Players by Numbers?
The picture above has a lot of jerseys you may not have seen before and there will be some jerseys which you will recognise straight away. The 23 of Jordan is probably the most iconic jersey ever to be worn in the NBA. In order to guide you through the list, we have gone through each jersey and listed the name of the player and the team they played for in the table below.
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|00||Robert Parish||Boston Celtics|
|0||Russell Westbrook||Okolahoma City Thunder|
|1||Oscar Robertson||Milwaukee Bucks|
|2||Moses Malone||Philadelphia 76ers|
|3||Allen Iverson||Philadelphia 76ers|
|4||Dolph Schayes||Philadelphia 76ers|
|5||Kevin Garnett||Minesota Timberwolves|
|6||Bill Russell||Boston Celtics|
|7||Pete Maravich||Utah Jazz|
|8||Kobe Bryant||LA Lakers|
|9||Bob Pettit||Boston Celtics|
|10||Walt Frazier||New York Knicks|
|11||Karl Malone||Utah Jazz|
|12||John Stockton||Utah Jazz|
|13||Wilt Chamberlain||Philadelphia 76ers|
|14||Oscar Robertson||Cincinati Royals|
|15||Hal Geer||Philadelphia 76ers|
|16||Bob Lanier||Detroit Pistons|
|17||John Havlicek||Boston Celtics|
|18||Dave Cowens||Boston Celtics|
|19||Willis Reed||New York Knicks|
|20||Gary Payton||Seattle Supersonics|
|21||Tim Duncan||San Antonio Spurs|
|22||Elgin Baylor||LA Lakers|
|23||Michael Jordan||Chicago Bulls|
|24||Rick Barry||Golden State Warriors|
|25||Vince Carter||Dallas Mavericks|
|26||Buddy Jeannette||Baltimore Bullets|
|27||Jack Twyman||Cincinnati Royals|
|28||Sam Cassell||Boston Celtics|
|29||Marcus Camby||Houston Rockets|
|30||Bernard King||New York Knicks|
|31||Reggie Miller||Indiana Pacers|
|32||Magic Johnson||LA Lakers|
|33||Kareem Abudal-Jabbar||LA Lakers|
|34||Hakeem Olajuwon||Houston Rockets|
|35||Durant||Oklahoma City Thunder|
|36||Shaquille O’Neal||Boston Celtics|
|37||Ron Artest||LA Lakers|
|38||Kwame Brown||Detroit Pistons|
|39||Greg Ostertag||Utah Jazz|
|40||Shawn Kemp||Seattle Supersonics|
|41||Dirk Nowitzki||Dallas Mavericks|
|42||Nate Thurmond||San Francisco Warriors|
|44||Jerry West||LA Lakers|
|45||Michael Jordan||Chicago Bulls|
|46||Bo Outlaw||Phoenix Suns|
|47||Jerry Lucas||San Francisco Warriors|
|48||Nazr Mohammed||Chicago Bulls|
|49||Shandon Anderson||New York Knicks|
|50||David Robinson||San Antonio Spurs|
|51||Metta World Peace||New York Knicks|
|52||Jamaal Wilkes||LA Lakers|
|53||Artis Gilmore||Chicago Bulls|
|54||Horrace Grant||Orlando Magic|
|55||Dikembe Mutombo||Denver Nuggets|
|56||Francisco Elson||Denver Nuggets|
|57||Hilton Armstrong||Golden State Warriors|
|58||– not worn as of 2019 –|
|59||– not worn as of 2019 –|
|60||Walt Kirk||Indianapolis Jets|
|61||Dave Piontek||Cincinnati Royals|
|62||Scot Pollard||Indiana Pacers|
|63||– not worn as of 2015 –||Coty Clarke Celtics|
|64||– not worn as of 2019 –|
|65||George Ratkovicz||Syracuse Nationals|
|66||Scot Pollard||Boston Celtics|
|67||Moe Becker||Detroit Falcons|
|68||Milt Schon||Detroit Falcons|
|69||– not worn as of 2019 –|
|70||Dennis Rodman||Dallas Mavericks|
|71||Willie Naulls||San Francisco Warriors|
|72||Jason Kapono||Philadelphia 76ers|
|73||Dennis Rodman||LA Lakers|
|74||– not worn as of 2019 –|
|75||– not worn as of 2019 –|
|76||Shawn Bradley||Philadelphia 76ers|
|77||Vladimir Radmanovich||Seattle Supersonics|
|78||– not worn as of 2019 –|
|79||– not worn as of 2019 –|
|80||– not worn as of 2019 –|
|81||– not worn as of 2015 –||Jose Calderon Cavs/Pistons|
|82||– not worn as of 2019 –|
|83||Craig Smith||Portland Trail Blazers|
|84||Chris Webber||Detroit Pistons|
|85||Baron Davis||New York Knicks|
|86||Chris Johnson||Boston Celtics|
|87||– not worn as of 2019 –|
|88||Antoine Walker||Boston Celtics|
|89||Clyde Lovellette||Minneapolis Lakers|
|90||Drew Gooden||Washington Wizards|
|91||Dennis Rodman||Chicago Bulls|
|92||DeShawn Stevenson||Dallas Mavericks|
|93||Ron Artest||Sacramento Kings|
|94||Evan Fournier||Denver Nuggets|
|95||– not worn as of 2015 –||Deandre Bembry Hawks|
|96||Ron Artest||Houston Rockets|
|97||– not worn as of 2019 –|
|98||Jason Collins||Brooklyn Nets|
|99||George Mikan||Minneapolis Lakers|
Which Choices were Controversial back in 2015?
Who is the best player to wear the number 6 jersey in NBA History?
Bill Russell famously won 11 NBA Championships in 13 years with the Boston Celtics, the last two championships as player coach he also added 5 MVP awards, 2 NCAA Championships, an Olympic Gold medal in 1956 and made 12 NBA All-star teams. He is considered one of the greatest players of all time and is acknowledged as the biggest winner in NBA history. Due to his dominance in the NBA finals in 2009 the NBA Commissioner David Stern renamed the Finals MVP trophy the ‘Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award’. You would think it would be a done deal that Bill Russell would be the consensus best player to ever wear the Number 6.
However, at the time some people thought that this honour should go to Lebron James. King James had just led the Miami Heat to two championships in 2012 and 2013 and then left the Heat to return home to the Cleveland Cavaliers. While we recognise that Lebron is also one of the greatest players of all time and 4 finals appearances in a row with the Heat including two Championships was a great achievement, his time as number 6 will always be under the shadow of Bill Russell’s towering presence and why we agree that Bill Russell is the greatest NBA player to ever wear the number 6 jersey.
Who is the best player to wear the number 11 jersey in NBA History?
At number 11 Mitchell and Ness choose to honour the ‘Mailman’ Karl Malone, who wore the number 11 jersey in his one lone season at the Los Angeles Lakers. While we agree that Malone was a great player we don’t agree with this pick and it was controversial at the time. Malone had a great career picking up 2 NBA MVP awards, 14 NBA All-star appearances (Including 2 NBA All-star MVPs, 11 selections to the All-NBA first team, 2 Olympic gold medals and 3 NBA Finals appearances.
However, the best NBA player to ever wear the number 11 jersey is Isiah Thomas of the Detroit Pistons. As the leader of the ‘Bad Boy’ Pistons Isiah led the team to 2 NBA Championships, picking up the 1990 NBA Finals MVP in the process.
Who is the best player to wear the number 24 jersey in NBA History?
Another controversial pick at the time was Rick Barry at number 24 ahead of Kobe Bryant. Perhaps remembered more now for his 4 son’s that played in the NBA (Most Famously Dunk champion Brent) or his unorthodox but effective underhand ‘Granny’ free throw shooting technique, (When he retired in 1980 his .900 free throw percentage ranked 1st in NBA history). Rick Barry also won an NBA championship as the leading scorer on the Golden State Warriors in 1975, he was named MVP of those finals, was an 8 x NBA All-Star (Winning MVP honours in 1967) and won an ABA Championship in 1969. At the time many thought the obvious winner would have been Kobe.
Kobe was a 5 x NBA Champion, two of which were won while he wore number 24, alongside his two NBA Finals MVP awards. He was the MVP in 2008, and a 18 x NBA All-star (Winning 4 All-star game MVP awards). Perhaps Mitchell and Ness wanted to share the love, after already giving Kobe the honour of naming him the best ever NBA player to wear the number 8 jersey. But we feel that his final two championships wearing number 24 give him the edge over Rick Barry and he should have rightfully claimed the title as the best NBA player to wear the number 24 jersey as well.
Who is the best player to wear the number 33 jersey in NBA History?
The choices at number 33 are quite astounding. Mitchell & Ness choose 6 x NBA Champion Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, he is still the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, 2nd all time in games played, was an All-Star in 19 of the 20 NBA season’s he played and the owner of the most iconic offensive shot of all time ‘The Skyhook’. They could have chosen Scottie Pippen, the robin to Michael’s Batman on Chicago’s 6 NBA titles, Patrick Ewing the towering centre from the Knicks 90’s team’s that had the garden rocking or the ‘the hick from French Lick’, Larry ‘Legend’ Bird.
Bird won 3 NBA Championships, 2 NBA Finals MVPs, 3 NBA MVP awards and was a 12 time All-star (Winning the All-star MVP in 1982). It’s a close call, however we feel in this case Mitchell & Ness got it right, the best NBA player to ever wear the number 33 jersey is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Who is the best player to wear the number 34 jersey in NBA History?
Number 34 also has a plethora of great options, Mitchell & Ness went with two-time NBA Champion and Finals MVP Hakeem ‘The Dream’ Olajuwon. Hakeem also added the MVP award in 1994, 12 NBA All-star selections and 6 NBA first team selections. Other great players to wear number 34 include Charles Barkley at the Phoenix Suns and Ray Allen at the Bucks.
However, we feel that the winner should have been Shaquille O’Neal. Yes, Hakeem bested a young O’Neal in the 1995 finals, when the Rockets sweep aside the Magic in 4 games. But Shaquille came back to win 4 NBA Championships and 3 NBA Finals MVP awards. He became perhaps the dominant offensive center ever and led the 2001 Lakers to a 15-1 playoff record, still the best-ever post season run as the Lakers swept thought the Western conference. Their only lost in the entire post season was a 101 – 107 Overtime loss to the Allen Iverson led Philadelphia 76ers. This is what makes Shaquille O’Neal the best ever NBA player to wear the number 34 jersey.
What’s happened in the NBA in the last 5 years?
Since this list has been published a lot has changed in the NBA. The Golden State Warriors won the Championship in 2015, besting Lebron James and an injury ravaged Cleveland squad. The Warriors followed up this championship by claiming the best ever regular season record with a stunning 73-9 season. However, in the finals that year the Cavaliers famously came back from 3-1 down to win their first ever Championship. This led Kevin Durant to join the Warriors and create their line-up of death. The Warriors promptly reeled off two more championships, beating the Cavs both times. Leading Lebron to take his talents to Hollywood and join the Lakers. The Warriors were expected to complete a three peat, however a tortuous playoff run, left a depleted Warriors facing a hungry new finals foe. The Toronto Raptors made the most of Lebron exit and led by Kawhi Leonard beat the Warriors in 6 games to claim the first NBA Championship to be won by a non-American team.
MVP awards have been won by Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo. And a raft of exciting new players have joined the league headlined by stars such as Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Luka Doncic, Trae Young and Zion Williamson.
So with all this in mind has any players made the jump into the list in the last 5 years?
Which Players should knock out an incumbent?
Who is the best player to wear the number 2 jersey in NBA History?
Moses Malone won the NBA Championship and MVP in 1983. He also won 3 x MVP awards was a 12 x NBA All-star and 4 x All-NBA first team selection. He was Mitchell & Ness’s selection in 2015. However, since then Kawhi Leonard has added a second NBA Championship and finals MVP to his resume with the Raptors and then promptly left to join the LA Clippers and bring Paul George with him. He probably already has this locked up but a third NBA Championship with the Clippers would seal the deal and see Kawhi Leonard crowned the best player to wear the number 2 jersey in the NBA.
Who is the best player to wear the number 3 jersey in NBA History?
Allen Iverson was the pick in 2015, and we all love the Answer. But the real winner here should have been DWade. 3 x NBA Championships, 1 x NBA Finals MVP and a Miami Heat Legend. It was special to see Wade finish his career in Miami and now it only feels right that Dywane Wade is crowned the best NBA player to wear the number 3 jersey.
Who is the best player to wear the number 30 jersey in NBA History?
In 2015, Mitchell & Ness chose Bernard King as the best ever number 30. A gifted scorer who averaged 22.5 PPG over 14 NBA seasons. However, since then Steph Curry has cemented his place as the greatest shooter the NBA has ever seen. He has also added 2 X MVP awards (Including the 2014-14 award where he was the first ever unanimous winner, collecting every first place vote), 3 x NBA Championships, guided the Warriors to a NBA best ever regular season record of 73-9 and holds countless shooting records that include most three’s made in a season, most three’s made in a single playoffs (Tied with Klay Thompson) and most three’s in a finals game. He has now overtaken King, to easily become the best NBA player to ever wear the number 30 jersey.
Who is the best player to wear the number 77 jersey in NBA History?
Vladimir Radmanović had a fine NBA career, anyone that plays in the NBA for 12 years had to be doing something right! However in only 1 and a half season’s Luka Doncic has easily taken away the title of the best player to ever wear number 77 in the NBA. He won the 2019 Rookie of the year, and only halfway though the 2019/20 season has already broken the Dallas Mavericks record for triple doubles in a season after only playing 31 games and recording 10 triple doubles. In an incredibly short period of time Luka Doncic has already claimed the title of best NBA player to ever wear the number 77 jersey.
Bonus nugget! Why does Luka Doncic wear the number 77 jersey?
Growing up playing for Real Madrid, Luka Doncic always wore the number 7 jersey because his favourite player was Greek legend Vassilis Spanoulis. However when Doncic was promoted to the Slovenian senior team at EuroBasket 2017, Klemen Prepelič was already an established member of the team and had been wearing number 7. In respect to his older team mate Doncic decided to wear number 77. When he was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks in 2018, a similar situation occurred with Dwight Powell already established with the team and wearing the number 7 jersey, Luka again opted for number 77. After having such success in the number at EuroBasket where the Slovenian team won, I imagine it wasn’t such a difficult decision.
Who could claim a jersey number in the future?
Who is the best player to wear the number 1 jersey in NBA History?
Zion Williamson has not even played an NBA game yet, however could he become the best player to ever wear the number 1 jersey in the NBA? This honour is currently held by Oscar Robertson, who was famous as the first ever player to average a triple double. He won a Championship in 1971 as part of the Milwaukee Bucks and was the MVP in 1964. If Zion is able to bring a first NBA championship to New Orleans with the young Pelicans squad he certainly is in with a chance of claiming the number 1 jersey spot for himself.
Who is the best player to wear the number 15 jersey in NBA History?
Back in 2015, Mitchell & Ness overlooked Vince Carter at number 15 to choose Hal Greer. Greer won the NBA Championship in 1967 alongside Wilt Chamberlain on the Philadelphia 76ers and was a 10 time All-star. Could Nicola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets overtake him? The sweet passing big man from Serbia would need to deliver the Nuggets their first ever championship to join the conversion but with the depth and youth of the Nuggets its not totally impossible.
Who is the best player to wear the number 23 jersey in NBA History?
In what appears to be coming a generational divide many fans already think that Lebron James is the greatest ever NBA player and therefore the greatest ever to wear the number 23 jersey in the NBA. We still have his Airness on the thone, but when will Lebron retire and what will his final stat line look like? If Lebron is able to bring the glory back to the Lakers he would have won Championships on 3 different teams and from both conferences. He could also end up as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. Is that enough to make Lebron the best ever player to wear the number 23 jersey in the NBA? Only time will tell.
Long Shots currently playing that could become the best player to wear their number in the NBA:
11 – Trae Young is making waves in only his second season in the NBA, but could he overtake Isiah Thomas as the best ever number 11?
12 – Ja Morant has made an electrify start to his NBA career, he has a mountain to climb if he wants to overhaul the NBA’s all-time assist leader and member of the dream team in John Stockton. However, imagine if Morant brings a Championship to Memphis? That would definitely put him in the conversation to become the best ever NBA player to wear the number 12 jersey.
21 – Joel Embiid would have to best Tim Duncan and his 5 titles in San Antonio to take the number 21 jersey.
25 – Ben Simmons would have to better the hall of fame career of Vince Carter, this might only happen if he dares to take a jump shot every now and then.
34 – Could Giannis Antetokounmpo topple Shaquille O’Neal and make the number 34 jersey his own?
99 – Fans of all teams would love to see Tacko Fall claim a permanent spot on the Celtics roster and also take the title of best ever player to wear the number 99 jersey in the NBA, however he will have his work cut-out as the current holder is NBA Hall of famer George Mikan.