Most athletes pick a number all the way back in youth league and stick to it forever. Never to be changed again. Even some NFL players have been reported as paying other teammates to gain their number from a current teammate. It gets that serious, believe me, as a former athlete myself, the number 11 was pretty near and dear to my heart. Even Big Sean thinks the 88’s are eternal.

But let’s get into the story, here’s a visual history of greats who changed their jersey numbers and why!

1. Michael Jordan

“As fate would have it, Jay’s status appears
to be at an all-time high, perfect time to say goodbye. When I come back like Jordan
wearing the 4-5, it ain’t to play games with you.”

One of my favorite athletes ever, MJ. As many of you basketball lovers know, he retired from the game of basketball in 1995. Only to land with the Chicago White Sox and his first love of baseball. In his stent with the Sox, Jordan ended up wearing the number 45. Most people don’t know the original story on why though. Michael dawned the number 45 all the way back at Laney High School in Wilmington, North Carolina. All up until the year he got on the varsity team with his older brother Larry, who wore 45 at the time for the Bucs. And anyone with an older sibling knows that you don’t win wars against them, so Michael ended up switching numbers. Jordan did the math, what’s a number halfway to 45? 22.5? Let’s round up to 23 and there you have it.

MJ ended up coming back the NBA for the 1995-1996 season, only to win the championship. And then again in 1997 and 1998. Jordan initially rocked the 45 jersey in his first year back because of a special reason after his father’s death. “When I came back, I didn’t want to play in the last number that my father had seen me wear,” Jordan wrote in his For the Love of the Game book. Jordan would soon change his jersey back to 23 after Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals against the Orlando Magic.

2. Kobe Bryant


I actually hated Kobe Bryant for the majority of his career. Back when he wore 8 I used to love watching him fail against the Spurs and the Suns. Back when Steve Nash was copping back-to-back MVP awards. But I’d have to say my respect and admiration for him changed as he went bald and switched to the new 24. It was like he wasn’t immortal after all. Then I heard the rumor on why he changed it:

When Kobe Bryant came into the league, he couldn’t cop 33 because it had just been retired by the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and 24 was taken by a current teammate on the Lakers squad so he landed on 8.

You can believe the rumor on him wanting to “1 up Jordan”. MJ obviously wearing 23 and Kobe with 24, but it’s a little deeper than that. Kobe Bryant had a similar high school story to Jordan, as he wore 24 in high school before switching to 33 his senior year. Kobe noticeably switched numbers soon after Shaq left the Los Angeles Lakers in 2004. Maybe Kobe wanted a fresh start?

A new season without Shaq was a new beginning and a new opportunity for a new jersey. But the question is, which jersey did he perform better in? Is it the 81-point performance? The 3-peat? Or the transcending Olympic gold medal wins in 2008 and 2012 respectively. Or his one and only MVP award?

I’d say they both need to be retired. Shouts to you g, La La land will miss you.

3. LeBron James

Los Angeles Clippers v Miami Heat

Do you remember where you were when LeBron made “The Decision?”  , I do. It was actually the night before my birthday. I was back home in Charlotte, North Carolina and me and my brother and his friends were in the back room. I was on the floor, everybody else was on the couch, then he told the world he was taking his talents to South Beach.

Which was all good to me of course. And anybody else who wasn’t from Cleveland. But as the Cavs lost their once-in-a-lifetime superstar talent, LeBron also lost his jersey number he coveted for so long. Switching from 23 to 6 out of respect for Michael Jordan.

“I feel like no NBA player should wear 23. I’m starting a petition and I’ve got everyone in the NBA to sign it.” James said. “Now, if I’m not going to wear No. 23, then nobody else should be able to wear it.”

Obviously times have changed and just like the all-mighty Michael Jordan did, LeBron switched his number back to 23 in his return from South Beach to Cleveland. And I don’t blame him, it’s something about that damn number and those two!

Keep striving on King James! Cleveland in 7!

Here’s to more wins and less sin…

-Terrence Whaley