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The History Behind Player Numbers on Sports Jerseys

The History Behind Player Numbers on Sports Jerseys
on August, 13 2014
Image credit: Michael Jordan Jersey taken by Fotonovela under Public Domain.

Image credit: Michael Jordan Jersey taken by Fotonovela under Public Domain.

In the history of sport, player numbers have always been present and as it turned out there is a history and some secrets behind its use. The numbers on sports jerseys have become synonymous with the name once a player becomes a sporting legend.

It seems like the numbers are arbitrarily chosen, but is this how it was done or is there a sequence and meaning to the choices?

Number 23

Perhaps the most famous and most recognizable number in sport is 23, the number chosen by Michael Jordan, the greatest NBA player of all time. There had been other players in other sports that tried to own this number such as Shane Warne, one of Australia's greatest international cricketer. English football superstar David Beckham and another modern day basketball star, LeBron James also use the number. LeBron James sported number 23 for the first seven years of his NBA career and opted to use the number 6 when he moved to Miami Heat. He's moving back to Cleveland and still undecided on which number to use, although he was quoted as saying that he was going to give up the number 23 as his way of honoring the greatness of Michael Jordan. In the NBA, several players have used the number 6 including Julius Irving and Bill Russell.

There was no real mystery behind Michael Jordan's choice of the now famous number. He said his and his older brother's favorite number was 45 and since his brother was older, he opted to choose one half of the number and rounded it up to make it a whole number.

Use of sports numbers

Australians are mighty proud of the fact that the origin of the use of sports number was from Australia. The first formal use was during the 1911 Australian Rules game held in Sydney, according to the International Federation of Football History and Statistics.

Basically, numbers were used prominently on player jerseys to identify them from other players, spectators, game scorers and officials. In the early days of its use, there was order in its implementation. In soccer, the players were made to wear the numbers 1 to 11, with the goal keeper wearing number 1 and so on. In baseball, the number corresponded to the order of the batting position.

Today, however, the players are oftentimes allowed to choose their own number, as long as the number has not been retired and no one else in the team uses that particular number.

Before joining the Yankees, Alex Rodriguez had always used #3 but chose #13 when he joined the team because #3 was worn by the legendary Babe Ruth.

In Australian Rules football, the jersey number does not reflect the positions of the players. The numbers are not retired as well and famous numbers are given to a new top club player or passed on to the sons of former players in the same team. In National Rugby League however, the number represents the position of the player.

Some famous player numbers

Hockey's Wayne Gretzky's favorite number was 9 but since it was already taken, he chose 99 instead. Number 10 was the number sported by famous soccer players Johann Cruyff, Michel Platini, Diego Maradona and Pele. The first African-American Major League Baseball player Jackie Robinson wore #42.

Bernadine Racoma

Bernadine is a writer, researcher, professional and multi-awarded blogger and new media consultant. She brings with her a rich set of experience in the corporate world, as well as in the field of research and writing. Having taken early retirement after working as an international civil servant and traveling the world for 22 years, she has aggressively pursued her main interest in writing and research. You can also find Bernadine Racoma at .

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