Every athlete that plays on a sports team is faced with choosing their number. While it is the name on the front of the jersey that is the most important, the number on the back of the uniform has distinguished some of the greatest players of all time from the rest of their peers. Players are defined by their jersey number, and some jersey numbers are more popular than others. In the basketball world, we have seen numbers such as 23 made famous by players like Michael Jordan, and we have seen the iconic number’s legacy continued through people such as LeBron James.
Discussion of these jersey numbers comes with debate, however, as it begs the question, who was the greatest NBA player to wear that certain jersey number?
In this article, we will be looking at the greatest NBA player to wear each jersey number from 00 to 23. Of course, the number 23 is not the highest number that NBA players have adorned on their backs, but it is a good place to stop considering neither you nor I have the time to go up to #99.
Here are the greatest NBA player to wear each jersey number from 00 to 23.
00 – Robert Parish
Robert Parish was one of the best big men in the league throughout the 80’s, and his defensive presence of the Larry Bird-led Celtics teams was of particular importance when it came to winning championships. Though he played for multiple teams, Parish will go down as one of the greatest Celtics of all-time. Not only was he great on the defensive end of the ball, but he was also a good finisher and had a solid jumper, and he even averaged over 14 points a game over his long 21-year NBA career. Parish is even a member of the 50 Greatest Player of All-Time team, which puts his name with the likes of Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon. He won four NBA championships, and his athletic abilities and versatility on the court seemed to be unmatched back then, making him the best NBA player to ever wear the jersey number 00, hands down.
0 – Russell Westbrook
Though the best has yet to come from Westbrook, he has already strengthened his case enough to be considered the greatest player to wear the number 0 on his jersey. Westbrook uses his extreme athleticism to dominate night in and night out, and he is one of the NBA’s premier players right now. A triple double threat on any night, Westbrook can do it all on the basketball court. It will be interesting to see how Westbrook will play without Durant this season, as we may see some seriously incredible statistics put up by Russell throughout the year.
When it is all said and done, Russell Westbrook will go down as one of the best all around NBA players to ever play the game of basketball, and it should come as no surprise he cracks this list as the best player to wear the number 0. Most would likely agree.
1 – Oscar Robertson
Known as the “Big O” by many, Oscar Robertson wore the number “1” for four seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks towards the end of his amazing NBA career. He was the only player in NBA history to average a triple double at the end of a season, which just goes to show how good he was at every aspect of the game. A dominant scorer with great vision as a passer as well, any NBA team would have loved to have him on their team, as he even led his team all the way to winning an NBA championship in 1971. Go look up this guy’s stats, and you will understand how talented Oscar really was. While some great players have worn this number throughout the history of the game, such as Tracy McGrady or Derrick Rose, Oscar Robertson takes the cake as the greatest to adorn the iconic number.
2 – Moses Malone
Moses Malone was an indisputably dominant player in the ’70s and the ’80s, as his talent in scoring and rebounding is only rivaled by some of the greatest players ever. Moses played for nine teams throughout the NBA and the ABA, but he most famously wore the number “2” jersey with the Philadelphia 76ers. Even averaging a very impressive 31.1 points per game and 14.7 rebounds in 1982 with the Rockets, you can see why he is considered such a statistical behemoth. He is considered to be one of the greatest players to come out of high school, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001.
Undoubtedly one of the greatest big men ever, Malone had a very successful NBA career. Leading Philadelphia to an NBA championship in 1983, the 12 time all-star is the best player to ever wear the number 2 jersey, without a doubt.
3 – Allen Iverson
Another legendary Sixers player, Allen Iverson’s incredible talent on the basketball court was really something to watch. While Dwyane Wade has had a very successful career with the number 3 on his jersey, the impact Allen Iverson had on the game of basketball puts him just over Wade for this mention. Considered “pound for pound” one of the greatest NBA players ever, his smooth crossover has been imitated by fans and NBA player alike for years now. The Answer has had some seriously memorably moments, from stepping over current Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue in the 2001 NBA Finals to crossing over Michael Jordan in his rookie year.
Winning the MVP award in 2001 and leading the 76ers to the championship in the same year, no player has ever been beloved in the city of Philadelphia like Allen Iverson is. This man didn’t need practice to dominate, which makes his the greatest NBA player to ever wear the number 3.
4 – Adrian Dantley
There has been some great players to wear the number 4 jersey, such as Dolph Schayes and Joe Dumars, but Adrian Dantley’s career edges out the two, making him the best player to wear the #4 jersey. Winning the Rookie of the Year award with the Buffalo Braves, Dantley his the ground running in the NBA. A dominant scorer for a long time in the NBA, he even strung together four 30 plus point seasons, even leading the league in scoring twice. While he wasn’t very much of a deep range shooter, Adrian Dantley was a very dynamic and creative scorer around the rim. A six time all-star, Dantley played for seven NBA teams throughout his 15 year career, but his time with the Jazz was his most successful. He finished his career averaging 24.3 points per game, and will go down as the best player to wear number 4 on his jersey.
5 – Jason Kidd
Even though Kevin Garnett had much success with the number 5, he was more dominant with #21 with the Timberwolves, so I had to give this spot to one of the greatest point-guards of all-time, Jason Kidd. A standout star at California, Kidd was selected by the Dallas Mavericks with the 2nd pick in the 1994 NBA Draft. Jason Kidd is one of the of the league’s greatest basketball minds, as he has also had some success as an NBA coach, as he now coaches the Milwaukee Bucks, one of the association’s most exciting young teams.
A 10-time all-star, Kidd has a list of accolades that is extremely impressive, and he even won the NBA championship in 2011 with the Dallas Mavericks. A lockdown defender with excellent court vision, Jason Kidd was the ideal point guard during his playing days, and secured his spot as the best NBA player to wear the number #5 on the back of his jersey.
6 – LeBron James
Yes, Bill Russell won his fair share of championships while wearing number #6 with the Celtics, but LeBron James run with the Heat did the number #6 proud as any one. LeBron James’ time with the Miami Heat with the number #6 was dominant to say the least, and he solidified himself as the best player to wear the number #6 during his four year career with Miami. Winning three of his four MVP’s with the Heat, James spent the prime of his career with the black and red, and his stats reflected heavily, as he nearly averaged a triple double throughout his time there. He also won two NBA championships with the Heat, as he, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh torched many teams on their way to glory during the Big 3 Era. While LeBron will be remembered more for his time on the Cleveland Cavaliers when his career is over, his short but absolutely dominant time with the Miami Heat should be remembered, as his stint wearing the number #6 was the greatest the game has ever seen with that number.
7 – Pete Maravich
Pete Maravich is undoubtedly one of the greatest basketball players of all-time, and considering the number #7 isn’t one of the most popular numbers worn in the NBA, this spot was easy to give to “Pistol Pete”. His time spent at LSU was absolutely legendary, as his smooth scoring allowed him to break record after record, as he even somehow managed to average 44 points a game one season. His scoring translated into the NBA as well, and he won the NBA scoring title in 1977, averaging 31 points per game.
An elite scorer who is easily considered one of the greatest Jazz players of all-time, Maravich was loved by Utah fans for his ability to score consistently throughout his NBA career. His flashy play style helped changed the game, and “Pistol Pete” made his number #7 more iconic than anybody has.
8 – Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant wore the number #8 for the first 10 years of his NBA career, and the success he had with the Los Angeles Lakers during this time has put him ahead of any other player to wear #8. While many may argue that Kobe was more dominant during his later #24 days, a case can be made that Kobe’s “Mamba Mentality” was just as strong throughout the first half of his career. Kobe and Shaquille O’Neal absolutely dominated during the early 2000s, and the duo managed to win three NBA championships together. An offensive threat from anywhere on the court, teams had a lot of trouble dealing with young Kobe due to his extreme athleticism and nice touch, as he racked up point totals that were very impressive.
Let’s not forget, Kobe was wearing the number #8 during his legendary 81 point performance against the Toronto Raptors, which was easily one of the best scoring showcases ever. Kobe Bryant takes the cake for the greatest player to wear the number #8.
9 – Bob Pettit
Bob Pettit is definitely not one of the more famous NBA stars to have their names remembered years after their playing days, but he had a very impressive career with the St. Louis Hawks during the 50s/60s. A two time MVP, Pettit knew something about being one of the best players in the league, and his stats throughout his successful career were very eye-opening. He averaged 26 points and 16 rebounds over the course of his career, and he will definitely go down as one of the best power forwards of all-time.
Even during the Bill Russell dominated era when it comes to championships, Pettit did manage to win an NBA championship. Known for being one of the hardest workers to ever play in the league, Bob Pettit was a great offensive rebounder who played his heart out every game. Due to his list of accolades and success, Bob Pettit was the best player to wear the number #9.
10 – Walt Frazier
Walt Frazier is definitely one of the greatest players to put on a Knicks uniform, and he can even be considered the best NBA player to wear the number #10 on his jersey. Winning two titles with the Knicks in 1970 and 1973, Frazier had his fair share of winning during his playing days. He was selected to four All-NBA First Teams and to the All-NBA Second Team twice. He was a great all-around player who was known for his greatness on not just offense but on defense as well. He was so good at defense in fact that he was selected to the All-Defensive First Team a staggering seven times. You won’t be seeing any more Knicks players wear the number 10, as the team retired Frazier’s number which was rightfully deserved. Walt Frazier has gone down as one of the best basketball players of all-time, and he will go down as the best player to wear the number #10…so far!
11 – Isiah Thomas
Isiah Thomas was one of the greatest competitors the NBA has ever seen, and his small stature didn’t stop him from being one of the best players in the tough 80’s era. Leading his “Bad Boys” Pistons team to two championships, Isiah Thomas was considered a “villain” in the league due to how fiercely he competed night in and night out. Whatever it took to win, Isiah was about it. A great scorer who had excellent court vision to match, Thomas was the biggest reason the Pistons had any success against dominant teams such as the Chicago Bulls. He was selected to an impressive 12 all-star games, and holds much of the Detroit Pistons greatest records such as points, assists, steals, and games played. Isiah Thomas was definitely one of the greatest NBA point-guards of all-time, and his classic jersey with his signature #11 on it looked the best on him than any other player to choose the number.
12 – John Stockton
Another legendary point-guard, John Stockton had one of the best NBA careers the league has ever seen. An absolutely excellent passer, Stockton was able to rack up the assists with his all-star teammate Karl Malone, and even though the two were never able to bring a championship to the Jazz, they shared a lot of success together. John Stockton leads the NBA in career assists and in steals, which when thought about seems absolutely crazy how good he was at dominating both ends of the game. He led the Jazz to 19 straight playoff appearances, yea that’s not a typo, 19 years in a row this guy led his team to a consistent amount of wins. Sure, a few championships would have propelled his name a bit higher on the all-time list of greats, but he will surely go down as one of the best players to ever wear an NBA uniform, and he was undoubtedly the best player to wear the number #12.
13 – Wilt Chamberlain
Though some people believe the number #13 is unlucky, it definitely worked well for Wilt Chamberlain, as he absolutely dominated his competition throughout his entire career in the game of basketball. He was much bigger and stronger than any of his competitors during his era, and he made good on his advantages, as he put up numbers that just aren’t seen anymore in the modern day of basketball. Over the course of his career, Wilt “The Stilt” averaged 30.1 points per game and 22.9 rebounds per game. He even averaged a whopping 50.4 points and 25.7 boards in 1962. Yeah, those numbers are correct.
Winning two championships and five MVP awards, Wilt really was one of the greatest players to ever play the game of basketball. Usually considered one of the top five players of all time, it was easy to give Wilt the spot on this list.
14 – Bob Cousy
Bob Cousy isn’t one of the league’s most well known players, but he should be considering he was one of the leagues best players in the 50s and 60s. He was an excellent scorer who had a very solid overall game as well. Whether it be playing great defense of knocking down a deep shot, Cousy could always come through when needed. He won the NBA MVP in 1957, which goes to show he really was a talented ball player during his era. Teaming up with Bill Russell to create the first NBA dynasty with the Boston Celtics, Cousy was able to rack up six championships before his career was over.
No one really came close to Cousy when giving this spot, as he really is the greatest NBA player to wear the number #14 by far. Perhaps someone should try to eclipse him.
15 – Vince Carter
Arguably one of the best dunkers in the great game of basketball, Vince Carter was much more than just a high-flyer. During his prime, Carter was an absolute beast with teams such as the Raptors and the Nets, and he has always been productive even though he has ended up playing for a high number of teams. He has a great shooting stroke which he has depended on lately due to his decreasing athleticism, which shows he is an all-time great as he was able to evolve his game throughout his career. Go check out Vince Carter’s highlight reel, and you will be amazed at some of the ridiculous dunks this guy was able to pull off whether it be in game or in some of the NBA’s dunk contests.
Respected by everyone in the game of basketball, Vince had a very awesome NBA career which was filled with great plays. Vince was one of the most exciting players to ever play the game of basketball, and he has been the best player to put on a number #15 jersey.
16 – Pau Gasol
I had to look at the stats between Pau Gasol and Bob Lanier for this one, but Pau got the edge in championships already, and is still going strong as he will try to win another one with the San Antonio Spurs this season. Pau started off his career with the Memphis Grizzlies after being selected with the 3rd pick in the 2001 NBA Draft, and he quickly became one of the best big men in the league. After not finding much success championship wise with the Griz, Gasol played for Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, where he won two NBA championships. He is a great post player with good rebounding skills on both ends of the court, and for a power forward/center, he has amazing passing abilities.
Let’s see if Gasol can attain another championship in his next chapter with the Spurs, but he has already solidified himself as the best player to wear the number #16.
17 – John Havlicek
Havlicek was apart of the Bob Cousy and Bill Russell dynasty I spoke of earlier, and he was a key member due to his deadeye shooting and his all around scoring ability. He played in 13 all-star games, and was selected to a multitude of All-NBA teams due to the fact he was easily one of the best players in the league during his playing days. He was even chosen to five All-Defensive teams, which shows he was more than just a wing scorer for the dominant Celtics teams in the 60s. In the 1970-71 season, Havlicek averaged a very impressive 28.9 points per game, 9.0 rebounds per game, and 7.5 assists per game.
John Havlicek is one of the most underrated players to ever enter the NBA, and he is the greatest player to ever wear the number #17 in the great league we all love.
18 – Dave Cowens
To be honest with you, I didn’t know much about Dave Cowens until doing some research on his career, but I am now certain he deserves this spot considering he had one of the best but also underrated careers the league has ever seen. Another great Celtics player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, Cowens led the Celtics to two NBA championships throughout the 70s, and he even was awarded as the NBA MVP in 1973. At only 6’9, Cowens was a short center but he made up for it by being a very hard worker every time he stepped on the court.
A great scorer down low and a dominant rebounder, Cowens was the ideal center for any NBA team. He is also one of the few players to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. While there isn’t much competition for the number #18, Cowens is one of the NBA’s all-time greats.
19 – Willis Reed
Willis Reed is one of the most iconic Knicks players of all-time, and the team hasn’t won a championship since Reed led them to victory in the 1973 NBA championship, which was his second of his career. First winning it in 1970 with his Game 7 heroics, Reed was a dominant big man who could score and rebound seemingly at will. He won the most valuable player award in 1970, and was also a member of seven all-star teams. He was also named to the 50 greatest players in NBA history team, which just goes to show how respected and revered Willis Reed is by his peers in the basketball world. His number #19 was retired by the Knicks, as he is arguably the best player to ever wear a Knicks uniform. Willis Reed gets this spot no problem as his NBA career was truly legendary.
20 – Gary Payton
Gary “The Glove” Payton was easily one of the league’s greatest guards, as he was a defensive presence that no other guard has been able to replicate as of yet. A good scorer who could dish out some great assists, Payton will always be known for his impeccable defensive abilities, which is why he got the nickname “The Glove”. Paired up with Shawn Kemp, Gary and Kemp made the Seattle SuperSonics a premier team in the league. After his prime, Payton went to a multitude of NBA teams in search of a championship, and he was finally rewarded with one with the Miami Heat in 2006. He was a nine time all-star and a nine time All-Defensive first team member, which shows how good he was as a defender during his career. Gary Payton was the best player to ever wear the number #20.
21 – Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan is easily one of the best players the NBA has ever seen, and his retirement will leave a void that no player will be able to fill this season. “The Big Fundamental” is most likely the greatest power forward to ever play the game of basketball, and his long career is filled with awards and many, many, many wins. His patented bank shot he used night in and night out made him almost impossible to stop, as he continued to dominate any team he faced throughout the prime of his career. Duncan won five NBA championships with the only team he ever played for in the San Antonio Spurs, and his career with the team is one of the most legendary playing careers of all-time.
A 15 time all-star, Duncan was beloved by fans and players alike due to his humble nature even though no one would have blamed him for being cocky. Tim Duncan is easily the greatest NBA player to wear the number #21, and I doubt anyone will ever take this spot from him.
22 – Elgin Bayl0r
Elgin Baylor was one of the league’s greatest high-flyers during his playing days, and his career with the Lakers was one of the storied franchises best of all-time. A dominant scorer in the pre-three point era, Baylor could score simply due to the fact of how skilled and athletic he was at getting to the basket. He even averaged 38.3 points per game in his 1962 NBA campaign, and even though he never won an NBA championship, Baylor is easily one of the league’s best players. An 11 time NBA all-star, Elgin Baylor has a long list of accolades due to his immense success after being drafted with the 1st pick in the 1958 NBA Draft.
Elgin Baylor is the best NBA player to ever wear the number 22, and unless someone can score like Baylor could during his day, we won’t see him giving up this spot any time soon.
23 – Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan needs no evidence on why he is on this list, and even though LeBron James is still making a case for this spot, no other player has had the success and the impact that Michael Jordan had during his illustrious NBA career. A six time NBA champion and a five time MVP winner, Michael Jordan’s list of accolades is extremely extensive due to the fact he is the greatest NBA player of all time. He is the biggest name in basketball and most likely the biggest name in all of sports history, as his success was so dominant throughout the 90s that he even had to try another sport because there was nothing else left for him to prove.
Michael Jordan really is the greatest man to ever play the game of basketball, and his legendary career earned him his easily deserved spot as the best player to wear the iconic number 23.
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