Hot jersey, but LeBron needs a number

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – LeBron James‘ new Cleveland Cavaliers jersey is flying off the shelves.

Only that’s not completely accurate. For the time being, LeBron jerseys are still kind of on the tarmac, awaiting takeoff.

lebron6The NBA Store’s website and phone lines are ablaze with demand for LeBron goods. The NBA doesn’t release sales figures outside of its regularly scheduled reports, but a league source provided this glimpse into recent demand for all things LBJ: Since James announced his return to Cleveland on July 11, his Cavs replica jerseys (all three color versions: home, road and alternate) are the top three best-selling items on NBAStore.com. Eight of the top 10 items sold overall since then are LeBron Cavs items.

The store initially sold out of all LeBron jerseys, but it’s now restocked in just about every size. The problem: When shoppers buy their LeBron jerseys, they get this message in red type:

“This item will ship within 2-4 weeks after the player has officially signed his contract and is assigned a number by the NBA.”

Ah, yes. LeBron picked his city. But he has yet to pick a number.

Of course, the NBA won’t assign the King a jersey number, like he’s some 7-year-old at the YMCA.

COACH: “Here you go son, got No. 18 for you.”

LeBRON: Hmm … Got 23?

COACH: “I got 18. Youth medium.”

A week ago, James summoned the aid of his 13.75 million Twitter followers:

lebron23James wore 23 during his first seven seasons in Cleveland, the number he picked as a prodigy at Akron, Ohio’s Saint Mary’s-Saint Vincent’s in honor of his hero Michael Jordan. When James took his talents to South Beach in 2010, he ditched 23 for 6, the number he wore in the 2008 Olympics.

Neither number seems like a proper fit for The Return. His first number, 23, still invites all those insufferable comparisons to Jordan. And 6 would just feel weird in Cleveland after all that’s gone down since the original Decision. It should stay in Miami.

With James winding down a Nike-sponsored tour of China, maybe picking a number will soon become top priority. Right behind getting Kevin Love. (For the record, Love wears 42, in honor of the uniquely gifted former NBA star Connie Hawkins. In Cleveland, Nate Thurmond‘s 42 is retired in the rafters.)

All this number talk shouldn’t be shrugged off. A player’s number is a key part of his identity. It typically holds a special meaning.

So we’ve been busy mulling a third number for Phase Three of James’ career. We want his fans to get their jerseys sooner rather than later.

The old flip-flop

32: Obviously it’s the reverse of his original 23, which wasn’t an original at all. James wore No. 32 as a freshman in high school apparently because 23 was already taken by an older kid who didn’t quite yet recognize James as the King. There’s a larger hook here. The player James is most compared to stylistically is not Jordan but Magic Johnson. There’s been a lot of big names to wear 32, which might or might not motivate James to pick the number: Bill WaltonShaquille O’NealKevin McHaleKarl Malone, Julius Erving with the Virginia Squires and New York Nets and one of my personal favorites, Seattle’s “Downtown” Freddie Brown.

The old flip-a-roo

9: Flip the 6 and what do you get? Yep, 9. Makes sense. Plus, James already has done 9, so it makes even more sense. He wore the number for a season as an all-state receiver in high school before giving up football to focus on hoops. Last summer James purchased new Nike uniforms for his alma mater’s football team. For the arrival of the new gear, James actually showed up in full uniform, pads and all, and surprised the gathered crowd. The number he chose for his jersey? Yep, 9. There’s some standout players currently wearing 9; Tony Parker and Rajon Rondo. Old-time great Bob Pettit wore it, too.

Honoring the Big O

14: Forgive me for bringing up Mount Rushmore, but it was LeBron who started the whole thing when he said Oscar Robertson would be on his personal NBA Mount Rushmore (along with Magic, Michael and Larry Bird). LeBron’s game can also be favorably compared to Robertson, the original triple-double machine. Robertson wore 14 with the Cincinnati Royals for a decade. He averaged a triple-double in his second season and darn near did it three other times. Bob Cousy, Sam Perkins and LeBron’s Cavs teammate on the 2007 Finals team, Ira Newble, also wore No. 14. This would be an intriguing choice and would once again shine a worthy spotlight on the Big O’s amazing career.

1: When Cincinnati traded Robertson to the Milwaukee Bucks for Charlie Paulk and Flynn Robinson, the Big O traded in his 14 for 1. LeBron choosing 1 could have dual meaning, paying respect to Robertson while proclaiming to world, “I’m No. 1.” A lot of No. 1s have come and gone in the league, but the list is short in terms of all-time greats. Tiny Archibald wore it before he got to Boston, then there’s Tracy McGrady, Chauncey Billups and, of course, Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks.

King Football

84: It seems every year we hear fantasy stories about LeBron joining an NFL team and instantly becoming an All-Pro receiver. Hey, at 6-foot-9, 260 pounds, who’s gonna get in his way? So why not buck traditional NBA numbers for a traditional NFL one? Since James was an All-State receiver in Ohio (we covered his No. 9 above) it makes sense that he pick a traditional NFL receiver’s number (between 80 and 89 and 10 and 19). My first inclination is to pick 88 because of LeBron’s love for the Dallas Cowboys and the lineage of players — Drew Pearson, Michael Irvin and now Dez Bryant — who made the number famous. Only three NBA players have ever worn 88 and one currently does: Portland forward Nicolas Batum. So, scratch that. If we narrow the numbers to tight ends, the position LeBron would likely play in the NFL, he’d probably choose between two Cowboys greats, No. 84 Jay Novacek and No. 82 Jason Witten. One has more titles than LeBron. Go with Novacek. Only one NBA player, Chris Webber, has ever worn 84 and for only one season (2007 with Detroit). No NBA player has ever put on 82 (according to basketball-reference.com).

Alternatives:

29: It’s the sum of LeBron’s first two numbers, and it’s a pretty rare one in the history of the NBA with Paul Silas being the most famous 29.

33: It’s just a great basketball number worn by such luminaries as Kareem Abdul-Jabber, Bird, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Scottie Pippen and the underappreciated Alvan Adams.

40: This comes with an eye toward some serious goal-setting, as in 40K, as in 40,000 career points. No player has ever reached it. Abdul-Jabbar remains the league’s all-time scoring leader with 38,387 points. James, 29, has scored 23,170 points in 11 seasons. It is doable.

75 Comments

  1. Usually I do not read article on blogs, however
    I wish to say that this write-up very forced me to check out and do so!
    Your writing taste has been amazed me. Thank you, quite nice post.

  2. KDfan says:

    “0” for a fresh re-start in Cleveland and change it each year he wins a ring.

  3. bjamin2 says:

    Miami retired 23 in honour of Jordan that’s the only reason James had to pick another number! He’ll go back to it now he’s back in Cleveland.

  4. abdul weedar says:

    what about a jersey with a number that you can change at every game lebron, the sheeps will buy right ?
    make a nice combo with on of your 35 pairs of shoes.
    and then switch team again ;)

  5. Garry says:

    29 is the # LBJ

  6. Clueless Fanboy says:

    must wear 00– to show the world you own a pair to actually return and confront a sour grape GM and silly fans who berated you after you left. It’s just great to be King…with balls!

  7. dice-dice says:

    LeBron james should wear number 1 because hes the best baller in the leage right now 1 !!

  8. Annekelley says:

    He should wear seven

    • Annekelley says:

      He is a great guy number seven is lucky

      • Annekelley says:

        He is a great guy number seven is lucky and Cleveland is going AL the way championship is next year seven is lucky I can sense it

  9. Doug says:

    Any number you pick is OK with us, Bron. Good luck with your Foundation. When you are back in Northeast Ohio, play some pickup games with the guys working in the factories and mills. That would be really cool. You got blue collar work ethic!

    Fan from Youngstown, Ohio

  10. Dennis J. Smith says:

    I will allow him to Wear my number, the number 13. Perhaps he will bring it more success than I did in college? Dennis.

  11. effss clay says:

    He needs 2 superstar to win his 2 rings. Sign 2 years with the cabs. He got Irving and waiting for klove, thats another 2.
    He should wear #2!

  12. Magic fan says:

    I think he should wear 23 again. My reason is, flip flop 23 = 32 and flip-A-roo 6 = 9 so 32-9=23

  13. ZON says:

    Lebron should wear #32. Lebron can’t wear 6 and 23 because those chapters are now closed in his career. If you think about this using #23 it is 2×3=6. #6 is what he wore in Miami. Now he needs to just flip it to 32. 3×2 still =6. So change to 32 it makes sense. He wore #32 as a freshman in high school and Lebron should finish his career with 32. He wore 23 because of Jordan but Lebron’s style of play resembles magic the most who wore 32. Finish where you began in high school by wearing #32. Finish your career Lebron by wearing the #32.

  14. denat says:

    I think LJ should get 10 or 15

  15. skyride says:

    if I were an NBA player I would wear 69 and get some 69 every night also.

  16. Perry says:

    Lebron should use number 17 or 29. My reason 23-6 = 17, 23+6= 29

  17. CRIS says:

    23+6=29 IS A GREAT CHOICE

  18. I suggest #9… As you notice, Cleveland is 9 letters, Caveliers is also a 9 letters, and his old number from Miami Haet is 6.. just reverse it.. Jersey no. is very important specially because thats the easy way to recognize the player. like MJ, when you wear #23 jersey they will recognize Mj but not you. same as Magic Johnson as he wares jersey #32 and among others. it make sense when he ware jersey #9.

  19. mike says:

    how about #27 to honor jack twyman who honored the nba by his inspirational love of a teammate.

  20. Arnaldo Quinones says:

    10. Symbolizing Perfection of his game!
    99. Symbolizing he will leave his mark for ever.

  21. 23 Means HOME!! thats the Number you should take LeBron TAKE IT!

  22. @J_cxk says:

    talking about 33 and not mentioning Grant Hill.. Autch..

  23. lbj- says:

    Flip the 6 and what do you get? Yep, 9. Makes sense – HAHAHA

    we have a mathematician

  24. lbj- says:

    25

    (2/5 finals) .

  25. jim says:

    He should wear 17. . . .
    23-6

  26. Raptster says:

    I don’t like when Player’s keep changing their number, It’s like they lack identity.
    I think he should pick between #6 and #23.

    For me it’s obvious, it’s #6 for so many reasons, like:
    – If he picks #23, it’s like is telling Cleveland fans that nothing happened in these 4 years, he didn’t left them, he didn’t left
    A fealing of betrayal in their minds, he didn’t made “the decision” on LIVE TV, it’s just wrong;
    – with #6 he went to 4 consecutive NBA finais; 2he won NBA titles; 2 NBA MVP titles; 2 NBA finals MVP titles and not
    considering the awards he won with #6 with the USA national team and gold medals…
    – if he stays with the number #6 it’s also a sign of respect to the Miami fans and telling them that he did not forget the past 4
    years;
    – every time he wears the #23 everyone keeps comparing him w/ MJ which I think it’s just wrong, they are from different eras
    In the NBA, they meant different things for the NBA and they do not play on the same position. I’m a big fan from both of them
    And I’m unable to compare the both…
    – finally, he should pick the #6 só that the cleveland fans can buy new jersey’s and expectativa different things from the once #23
    LBJ to the new and more mature #6 LBJ!

    If he changes back to #23, I think he also must change his jersey name to SIMBA from the Lion king (ref. To: “the king is back”) :-D

    Sory for my long speach, but I needed to say it after reading many things which I didn’t agree

    Hope that LBJ can bring Cleveland fans NBA champ and I’m eager for the new NBA season!

  27. MadOne says:

    LBJ you should wear number 30, LBJ-30. 30th is the day you was born, this is your magic number. Your parents and God gave you this number man.

    My is 29. MT29… (but who cares?) :)

    Kind regards
    MT-29

  28. BUDACAI says:

    I think 23 is the best for those player who is great. And Lebron going there to become great same as Michael Jordan.
    And what he started in CAVS should be continue and must be finished at the end. LBJ become popular starting in number 23. He can wear should be in that no.

  29. Andre says:

    32 All The Way.

  30. Deutztony says:

    He should still wear number 6, the number wherein everybody remembers him when they see a “Heat number 6″ jersey. Its the number which made him famous and made him acquire 2 NBA championship rings.

  31. James Yap says:

    James should wear 23.

  32. Wiser than you, Lebron says:

    Lebron,

    You should select the number 22, which signifies wisdom and that everyone deserves a second chance…..ironically fitting to you.

  33. ALL TIME GREATS says:

    Decisions, Decisions…Cleveland, Miami, LA, Houston, Cleveland?? 6, 23, who knows and who cares? This guy can’t make up his mind, and for that reason he has no identity. MJ was always with the Bulls in his heyday, and it was always 23 except for that short stint using the number 45. A player’s number is huge!!! If everything is not perfect in Cleveland watch this guy bail again when the going gets tough. 2 years from now, it will be the third DECISION and this cat just won’t know. 2 years of his prime without a ring? It must be the city, the coach, or the number. Yup that’s it. It’s the number. I have to get the right number and then everything will be perfect. Whatever. The beauty of MJ is that he was 100% original. He didn’t copy Dr.J or David Thompson, or anyone else. He was 100% original Michael Jordan. That’s why Jordan didn’t copy anyone else’s number or try to go to another elite player’s team. He didn’t need to play in North Carolina or New York where he was from. He didn’t need to play with Magic, Larry, or Charles. He had his own team, and he stuck with that team through thick and thin until finally they reached the pinnacle of success with a championship, and through it all he was always Michael Jordan playing shooting guard for the Chicago Bulls wearing number 23. They talk about how selfless Lebron James is as a player, but part of being selfless is also being loyal, believing in who you are and what you do, believing in your teammates, and sticking with your team and your city, and your fans through the failures as well as the triumphs. That is the beauty of player like Michael Jordan, and Lebron James is NOT that kind of selfless player who can lead his team and his city from Doldrums to Dynasty. Why? Because he doesn’t take responsibility as a leader. He won’t own it when the team fails. When the team gets a ring, it’s ALL because of Lebron, but when they don’t there’s some angle which allows Lebron and the media to blame something or someone else, paving the way for his next DECISION.

  34. NBASlovenianFAN says:

    Number 7, for his goal and for his supremacy

  35. Ezikiel Raby says:

    what about number 7

  36. FACTS says:

    lebron use #23 please coz your record in the finals is 2-3 lol

    • Christian says:

      Actually it’s 2-5

      He’s lost twice to the Spurs (once with Miami and once with Cleaveland)
      He lost against Dallas with the Heat.
      He’s one once against OK and once against the Spurs.

      Thus 2-5

  37. rjsl says:

    12 is the best number for him. cause he needs his 12 teamates to win 12 championship rings. and the king’s apostles are 12.

  38. T. Smith says:

    The # should be 2 ! The second time in Cleveland

  39. T Johnson says:

    I think he should go with #5.
    Been to 5 finals
    23 jersey he used to wear = 2+3 = 5
    5 Looks right on him Lol i put that on him in my 2k11 because boston’s #6 is not available.
    5 can be a symbolic Number for him as well idk who else wears 5 in NBA history.
    Aaaaannnnddd some other symbolic stuff with 5…

  40. zed says:

    29, 32 or 0 has more meaning

  41. Jeffriegh says:

    ok lets go for 10…10..10..10,10,10,10,10,10,10,10,LBJ10!!!!

  42. Big Al says:

    23 – endless comparison to MJ, which is now pretty lopsided.
    6 – won two championships, also season MVP and finals MVP at the same time.

    Easy choice really

  43. John says:

    I think he should go with 99, I don’t know any other basketball player who wore that.

  44. holothuria says:

    Not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4, not 5, not 6, not 7 . . .

  45. mykelanz says:

    maybe lebron should wear #6 again..coz it is the total no.on his name LEBRON.. and he wins championships on this no… ^^ go cavs..

  46. mee(a)t says:

    can someone tell me why does the number matter so much?

    • Carlo says:

      Don’t worry. It’s just another offseason discussion point.
      Does anybody think he, his teammates or opponents will play differently depending on what number he wears?

    • Too much POLITICS says:

      Now you can see from there how Media do too much propaganda to their self proclaimed “King”.. LOL! He didn’t earned his popularity but media did.. unlike Kobe Bryant and MJ they showed it on their talents, skills and achievements they work for it.. This guy just sits there and thinks how he could get the attention of the media and people.. This guy is a delusional KObe and MJ like no effort at all.. He’s using other great players as well to chase championship rings so he can get all the credits.. I really feel sorry for Ray Allen that should’ve been the Finals MVP and world knows it.. This is not a very good example for kids.. specially how he jumps from one team to the other..

      Why do you ask for help to the millions of people and all over the internet just to ask for help for your jersey number? LOL! It’s so obvious that he just wants attention.. not 1 not 2 not 3 not 4 not 5 not 6 not 7… LOL!

      JERSEY NUMBER IS NOTHING IF YOU DON’T HAVE A THREE-PEAT.. You got your opportuniy when you had all superstar players on your team with Miami but still you failed.. what a great pretender..

  47. twraymen says:

    Maybe he should go with 11…as in Part II. Or just number 2.

  48. atlhawksontherise says:

    He should wear something original. When I see six I think of dr j and 23 well that’s pretty obvios Jordan. I want him to wear a number that when I see it ill think of the king.

  49. joe says:

    23. I hate it when a player changes his number while playing for the same team like when Kidd changed his number on his second stint in Dallas and when Kobe changed it to 24. 1 team, 1 number.

  50. Swang says:

    Personally i think he should wear 23. He’s going back to finish what he started, so might as well continue with that number.

    Also he can wear 3 to symbolize his children. Eh. What is a number anyways.

    He can wear 69 for all I care ? No one has worn they number yet

  51. Doug says:

    Yeah, let’s go with Number 32. Jim Brown of the Cleveland Browns wore the number and he was the last
    Baller to bring a world championship to Cleveland, in 1964.

    • nathan says:

      I read many comments, this no. makes the most since next to #9 ……#32 is the last number worn in Cleveland by The best running back of all time. (If Barry sanders had won a championship brown would be 2nd of all time. Im a Detroit fan big time……but who doesn’t like the king! Anyway, I like 32 too.

  52. Sarah Shaker says:

    I think the Number 32 is a great choice, because that number was worn by the great Jim Brown,
    Fullback for the Cleveland Browns. Jim was the last Great to bring a world championship to Cleveland,
    50 years ago.

  53. Mauricio says:

    Number 9 was Jordan’s number at the Dream Team.
    So, for the same reason he shouldn’t wear 23, I think he shouldn’t go with no 9.

  54. Bill says:

    Definitely should not go back to 23. A butterfly can’t go back in its cocoon and become a caterpillar again. Either 6 or a new number.

    • skrutz says:

      Yeah. And 23 is just so… cliche now. “Wow, youre a fan of Jordan? I didn’t know anyone was!”

  55. RA-V says:

    IT IS NOT DOABLE… Sorry…

    • Hussain Ali says:

      Well, actually, if you think about it, Lebron is 16,380 points away from 40000. So, lets say that Lebron plays until he’s 40, another 11 seasons, (and for all you guys saying that “oh, he’s due for an injury,” or “he won’t play that long,” I’ll subtract a season, so 10) and as he gets older he is less durable so he plays (including the postseason) about 72 games per season plus 20 playoff games his first 5 seasons, so 460 games, but doesn’t even make the playoffs the last 5 seasons and plays 65 games per season, so 325 games. That’s an average of 78.5 games per season (plus the postseason). So, if you do the math (16,830 points/ 78.5 games x 10 seasons) he would only need to average 20.8 ppg. Not too difficult for him.

  56. Jonathan ward says:

    I think since LeBron is going back home and back to his roots, it would be fitting if he chose to wear 0 (Zero). 0 would be a representation of his roots in the state of “0hio” This way he could be called by the same name as one of his idols…”the big 0″…or better yet “Mr 0hio” thats got a nice ring to it. Zero would also help show the humility it took to go back home. Maybe he’ll like this suggestion. Not to mention “0” is the shape of a ring, The ring he hopes to bring back to his home state. Heck it could even represent 0 (zero) excuses on his part from this point forward.

  57. YungMussuBlack says:

    36

  58. Faba says:

    He should wear 52 thats his Finals record. I mean 5 Finals only two Championships. No but seriously i like 84, isn´t it also the year he was born?

  59. boffobig says:

    LeBron should wear #5. For how many championships Kobe has won…