Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A lot of NBA zeroes have worn double zero compiled one of those lists that's designed to start debate. They name the best players in NFL history to to wear each uniform number.

One of the most star-packed entries is No. 12. SI understandably gives the nod to Tom Brady. Runners-up include Terry Bradshaw, Joe Namath, Roger Staubach, Bob Griese, Doug Williams and Randall Cunningham.

I don't think NFL jersey numbers are quite as iconic as NBA ones. Everyone knows the great ones in NBA history: Magic's No. 32, Wilt's No. 13, Kareem's No. 33, and, of course, Jordan's No. 23. Most fans try to forget Jordan's No. 45. At Basketball Reference, you can look up every player who's worn every number.

As I looked at the Reference list, the most interesting thing to me was finding some of the worst players to wear each number. Which jersey number would - if it could talk, or at least object in some manner - complain about the guys who sported their number while laboring on the court? A stroll through the list.

0: Eric Montross, Benoit Benjamin, Soumaila Samake. Poor Soumaila. Guy stood seven-feet tall but only weighed 230 pounds. He played for the Lakers during the 2002-03 season. Despite having a physique that might best be described as Manute-like, Soumaila got suspended five games for steroid use. Samake actually started a game for the Lakers that year, a season that started with Shaq sitting out the early games after having surgery. Remarkably, Soumaila wasn't even the worst Samake(i) on the Lakers that year. That would have been Samaki Walker, who, unfortunately, did not get suspended for steroids and managed to start 39 games.

00: Yeesh. Robert Parish wore the number with pride and distinction. Outside of The Chief? A lot of tall guys, not much talent. Evan Eschmeyer, Eric Montross, Greg Ostertag, Benoit Benjamin, and William Bedford. Were some of these guys assigned those numbers or did they willingly say they wanted double-zero? Did having the number and being called a nothing - or, in this case, a double-nothing - hurt their self-esteem or did they choose it because they had low self-esteem to begin with?

And how about Montross wearing 0 and 00? Thankfully no one allowed him to wear 000.

1: Mugsy Bogues and Manute Bol both wore No. 1 during the 1995 season. Billy Donovan enjoyed an outstanding college career as a player and created a mini-dynasty at Florida as a coach, but as a pro he did nothing in his one season with the Knicks, where he played for his mentor, Rick Pitino. Also wearing No. 1, my least-favorite Laker ever: Smush Parker.

2: Another good number for underachieving - and, in some cases, rotund - centers: Joe Barry Carroll, Eddy Curry, Oliver Miller. Minnesota high school legend Khalid El-Amin wore No. 2 in his lone season in the NBA, when he played for the Bulls in 2001.

The Fifties were an odd time in the league, at least as far as number distribution. Guys wore 03, 07 and 09 (alas, there are no 007's in league history, not even Walter Bond). Jack McMahon, Sam Ranzino and Pep "Peppy" Saul all wore 03 and all played for Rochester at various times. Another Rochester Royal - Paul Noel - wore 07. And 09? Bobby Wanzer, in 1951, also for...the Rochester Royals.

Go way up on the list, to the very top. Four guys have worn No. 99, most famously George Mikan. Only one player ever wore No. 98: Chet Aubuchon of the Detroit Falcons, who played in the then-Basketball Association of America. The Detroit Falcons were to high numbers what the Royals were to low ones. In addition to Aubuchon - who scored 64 points in 1947 while shooting a ridiculous 25 percent from the floor - the Falcons had Ariel Maughan with 99. Maughan made his teammate Chet look like Artis Gilmore when it comes to shooting percentage. In '47, he made 24 percent of his shots. But he wasn't shy. Maughan threw up - and that does seem to be the proper phrasing here - 929 shots that year. He made 224. For his career, which lasted five brick-laying seasons, he made 28 percent of his shots.

There's only been one 89: Clyde Lovellete for the Lakers in 1954. Speaking of those early Lakers, Bud Grant - who, unfortunately became best-known for the number four in his Vikings coaching career - wore 14 and 20 during the 1950 season, which also ended with the Lakers winning the title.

Want a bad-luck number? No. 51. It's a number devoid of Hall of Famers or even decent starters. Michael Doleac might be the best player to ever wear the number, and that's not a sentence anyone should ever type. Him or Ken Bannister, who only wore it for three years and those three years were with the Clippers so there's some question if they even counted in league records.

No. 53 has a good mix of bad centers and decent ones. Decent: Artis Gilmore, Mark Eaton, Darryl Dawkins. Not decent: Stanley Roberts, Joe Klein, Jerome James and Mark Olberding, another Minnesota schoolboy legend who's greatest claim to fame post-college is as a punchline, as, for about 27 years, Sid Hartman seemed to believe the Gophers would have been a lot better if only Olberding were still around.

Kwame Brown wore 54 during his frustrating years with the Lakers. Kwame missed twice that many dunks with the Lakers and dropped three times as many passes. Kwame's now with Charlotte, signed by Michael Jordan, the man who originally drafted him No. 1 in 2001 and then, according to many stories, destroyed Kwame mentally while the big guy's hands physically ruined his chances at success in the league. What's the equivalent of Jordan again going after Kwame, and Kwame agreeing to again play for Jordan? It's a mini-version of the Billy Martin-George Steinbrenner fiascoes.

Only 37 guys wore the previously ridiculed No. 51, but 106 wore No. 50. And 74 wore 52. Perhaps guys have realized that any number whose best player is Michael Doleac is a jersey to be avoided. Only one guy ever wore No. 48. Walt Gilmore.

The forties are sort of a death zone for decent players. Only two players wore No. 49. Forty-six only had four and Bo Outlaw's been the best. No. 47 had five, but two of them were Jerry Lucas and Andrei Kirilenko. Fulda favorite Arvid Kramer wore No. 41. If Arvid had worn 51, he might have been the third-best guy to ever have that number.

No one likes the nines. Only three at No. 39, two at 49, no one at No. 59, and, thankfully, no one at No. 69.

Twenty-four players wore No. 29, but it's an unimpressive list. Paul Silas is far and away the best to wear it. Second best? You might have to give it to Pervis Ellison, who had a similar career to fellow top draft pick Kwame Brown, only Never Nervous never had the chance to be cursed at by Michael Jordan. No. 26 is a strangely bad number. Forty-one players have had it, with the well-traveled Hedo Turkoglu being the best. After that? Uh, Kyle Korver, anyone? Former Timberwolves cult legend James "Hollywood" Robinson also wore 26. He's the third-best guy with No. 26. Not a good number.

Finally, 191 players have worn No. 23. If LeBron had his way, of course, no one would wear it again, in honor of the career Michael Jordan enjoyed before becoming a failed executive. People wondered what LeBron was thinking with The Decision. His Retire 23 decree should have let people know LeBron might not have possessed the best judgment when it comes to bold proclamations. This year LeBron will wear No. 6. What, he can't wear Jordan's number but he's okay wearing the same number as Togo Palazzi?


Mike said...

Pervis Ellison was very good in Tecmo NBA basketball.

Shawn Fury said...

Yeah, and Jeff Hornacek was Jimmy Chitwood on that.