With the NBA currently celebrating its 75th anniversary, here at Hoops Habit, we wanted to come up with a fun way to join the celebration and pay tribute to all the great players that helped shape the game of basketball into what it is today. We are going to do that by highlighting the greatest NBA player to wear each jersey number.
According to stathead, nearly 4,600 different athletes have suited up for at least one NBA game and thanks to basketball reference, I was able to find every jersey number to be worn in the history of the league, and by whom each number was worn.
While conducting research for this article, I discovered that even though the amount of players far outweighs the amount of jersey numbers, there were still a lot of numbers that had never been used. Not a single player has ever elected to wear 97, 87, 82, 80, 79, 78, 75, 74, 69, 64, 59 or 58. Yet, there are plenty of numbers that have been worn but literally hundreds of players and there are a handful of numbers that have been only worn by a single player.
Without further ado, let’s take a trip down memory lane and celebrate the greatest NBA player to wear each jersey number.
Greatest NBA Player to wear each jersey number: 99, George Mikan
Not many players have worn the number 99, only seven to be exact, but even if there were more, it would be tough to rank them above George Mikan. The way he dominated on both ends of the court during his playing days led to numerous rule changes in the NBA, such as goaltending and the widening of the paint area. Teams would play “keep-away” when playing against Mikan in an effort to limit his impact, which led to the invention of the shot clock.
Mikan was an inspiration to many big men that came after him and, along with his college coach Ray Meyer, developed a drill designed to help basketball centers and forwards develop rhythm, good timing for rebounding, and scoring in the paint. Virtually every great forward and center since Mikan has practiced what is known as the Mikan Drill.
Long considered a pioneer of professional basketball, Mikan participated in the first four NBA All-Star games and was a member of the first six All-BAA and All-NBA Teams. Across nine seasons and three professional basketball leagues (BAA, NBL, NBA), Mikan won seven championships, made four All-Star appearances (won All-Star MVP in 1953), won four scoring titles, a rebounding title, and was named All-League eight times.
Honorable Mention: Jae Crowder