There was a time in many professional sports when jersey numbers were just assigned to a player. For some teams, this is still the case. However, for other teams, players have some say in the matter.
As a result, there are some interesting stories about how some pros selected their jersey numbers. Let’s take a closer look.
Fun Jersey Number Selections
Here are some unusual reasons for selecting a jersey number.
Jim Otto and #00
Jim Otto, a long-time snapper for the Oakland Raiders, chose the number 00 to reflect his last name, Otto. The Wausau, Wisconsin- raised Otto noted that his name means 00. “Aught” is an old way of saying “O.” So, his name is derived from “aught-0,” which became Otto.
Otto started wearing the number in the AFL and was able to grandfather the number into the NFL after the merger. He’s the only player to wear 00 in the NFL. Perhaps the number helped him on the field as Otto was selected for the Professional Football Hall of Fame.
Wayne Gretzky and #99
The Great One’s number selection for his jersey started as a backup choice. Wayne Gretzky hoped to wear jersey #9 to honor Gordie Howe, his favorite NHL player, while playing for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
Another Greyhound had already been wearing the number 9, so Wayne went with nine twice and ended up with jersey #99. He stayed with that number throughout his NHL career.
Michael Jordan and #23
Jordan’s brother wore No. 45 on their high school team. Michael Jordan couldn’t wear the exact number because they were on the same team, so he selected #23, roughly half of 45 – 22.5.
Pete Maravich and #44
You’re missing out if you’ve never watched a video of Pete Maravich’s basketball highlights. Pistol Pete was a magician with the ball and a scoring machine – especially in his college days at LSU. He chose #44 for the Atlanta Hawks to reflect his scoring average at LSU.
Damian Lillard and #0
Damian Lillard chose jersey number 0 to pay tribute to three locations he lived in that he holds dear: Oakland, California, Ogden, Utah, and Oregon. Lillard grew up in Oakland, played college basketball for Weber State University in Ogden, and played most of his NBA career in Portland, Oregon, for the Trailblazers.
At home games for the Trailblazers, he was introduced as wearing “the letter O.”
Klay Thompson and #11
Golden State standout Klay Thompson wears #11 because he was selected #11 in the NBA Draft (2011). Similarly, Rudy Gobert wears #27 because of his position in the NBA Draft (2013).
Shawn Bradley and #76
Former NBA player Shawn Bradley stood 7’6″ tall. His jersey number was 76. It’s pretty easy to see how he got there.
Gilbert Arenas and #0
Arenas wore jersey #0 because he was told he’d get zero minutes in college. Note: he earned far more than zero minutes in college, and the whole NBA career worked well for him, too.
Gilbert reinforced his jersey number selection by earning the nickname “Agent Zero.” His late-game performances proved he could reset the game clock to zero with clutch shooting and heroics.
Shane Victorino and #50
Red Sox player Victorino wore number 50 for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic to pay home to his native Hawaii, the 50th state in the Union.
Peyton Manning and #18
Peyton Manning pays tribute to his brother Cooper Manning who wore number 18 as a wide receiver in high school. The Manning-to-Manning connection hooked up for some 80 pass completions in Cooper’s senior year.
Cooper was hurt his freshman year at Ole Miss, and could no longer play the game. Peyton wears the number to keep his brother close because Cooper can no longer play.
Larry Bird and #33
Larry Bird wore the number 33 because his brother Mark wore 33. Mark wore 33 because his favorite player was Indiana high school standout Rick Mount, who, you guessed it, wore 33. Mount was the first high school player to be shown on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He went on to star at Purdue and play in the American Basketball Association (ABA).
Interesting Jersey Number Selections
For some jersey numbers, you’d be hard-pressed to come up with the reasoning unless you knew the backstory.
Babe Ruth and #3 and Lou Gehrig #4
The Bambino wore No. 3 because he usually batted third in the line-up. Lou Gehrig, who typically batted clean-up behind Ruth, wore number 4 to reflect his position in the batting order. (Ah, it was a simpler time.)
Eddie Gaedel and #1/8
As a stunt to promote attendance, owner Bill Veeck hired 3 feet 7 inches tall Eddie Gaedel for one game for the St. Louis Browns in 1951. Eddie is still the shortest player to ever play in the Major Leagues.
The 1/8 fractional number was chosen by Veeck. In his one at-bat, his small strike zone resulted in a quick walk. Gaedel’s on-base percentage for his career was 1.000.
Gaedel notably served his country as a riveter during WWII. His small stature enabled him to crawl inside the small spaces of airplane wings.
Jaromir Jagr and #68
Jagr wears number 68 to commemorate his native Czechoslovakia being invaded by the Soviets in the year 1968.
Kevin Durant and #35
KD wears number 35 as a tribute to his AAU coach, Charles Craig, who was murdered at the young age of 35.
Promotional Jersey Number Selections
Sometimes, numbers are selected for commercial reasons. Please read on.
Andy Messersmith and #17
MLB pitcher Andy Messersmith wore number 17 for the Atlanta Braves at the request of team owner Ted Turner. Turner’s TV station in Atlanta was WTCG – Channel 17 – and it was trying to attract viewers. Messersmith’s number became a human billboard with the addition of the word “Channel” above the number.
Clint Dempsey and #2
Clint chose number 2 when playing for Tottenham Hotspur to reflect his rap name, “Deuce.”
As you can see, there are many variables that can go into selecting a jersey number. From draft order to batting order, from family relationships to the spelling of your last name, there can be many considerations. I hope you enjoyed this look into jersey number selection.
By Mike O’Halloran
Founder and Editor, Sports Feel Good Stories
You are on our Why Pro Players Chose Their Jersey Numbers page.
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