Behind the Arc

Published 3:17 pm Monday, April 11, 2011

Oftentimes when I watch sports I wonder why an athlete chose his or her number.

Is it in remembrance of someone? Is it their favorite number growing up? Did they get it because it was the only one left?

I am going to highlight some of interesting athletes and tell you why they chose the number they did.

Kobe Bryant originally had the No. 8 when he first came into the league, but later on changed it to 24. There is a lot of speculation that he changed it for the money (he had left Adidas and had a shoe called the KB8). Nike wanted nothing to do with his old number because people could still associate it with Adidas so they asked him to switch to anything else.

I personally believe he switched to 24 because it is one more than Michael Jordan’s No. 23 and since he wanted to leave his own legacy he chose 24. (22 was retired by the Lakers and worn by Elgin Baylor).

Most NFL jerseys tell a story for the player.

In the case of Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, his No. 32 tells a story of revenge. All 32 teams passed on Jones-Drew in the 2006 NFL Draft. He was eventually drafted with the 60th pick so even Jacksonville passed on him once before. He wanted the No. 21 originally, and that number had been in his family since college, high school and Pop Warner. Jones-Drew’s grandfather had it. But in Jacksonville, [cornerback] Terry Cousins had it so he took No. 32.

His number was already taken (No. 45) when he made the high school basketball team (Laney High School). Jordan’s favorite number had always been No. 45 – which was his older brother Larry’s number.

When Jordan got to high school, he couldn’t have No. 45 because Larry had it – so he decided to have half of his number… 22 and a half, which rounded to 23. Jordan also had to wear No. 12 in the NBA before a game in the early 90’s because his jersey was stolen and another No. 23 jersey had to be found.

Wayne Gretzky always wore No. 9 as a child because of his hockey idol Gordie Howe, but when he went to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds the number was already being worn.

Gretzky’s coach didn’t want to upset either player by making them give up their number, so he looked to the NHL for inspiration. Boston Bruins star Phil Esposito, who had worn No. 7 during his career, had just been traded to the New York Rangers. But Rangers star Rod Gilbert was already wearing No. 7. So, Esposito wore number 77 instead…two sevens.

Gretzky’s coach thought this was a good idea and told Gretzky to do the same thing…two nines instead of the one.

Patrick Bryant is MultiMedia Manager for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be reached via email at