What’s in a number? OKC Thunder players Paul, SGA, Noel select 2018-19 jersey numbers

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, OKC Thunder (Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images)
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, OKC Thunder (Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images) /

As new players join the OKC Thunder the tradition and attachment to digits take precedent as the process of bartering for specific favorite jersey numbers begins.

With four players arriving through trades and free agency to play for the OKC Thunder, some discussion was required in terms of who would land their favorite jersey number. This hasn’t been much of an issue in OKC since the franchise is only 11 years old, but has occasionally arisen.

Throughout the course of sports history, there are typically two items players have a major affinity for. In the NBA that’s which set of kicks they’ll wear and the number which will adorn their jersey.

Players wear a specific number either out of superstition, a favorite number and sometimes simply because it was the number they wore when they first began playing basketball. Many players pay homage to their favorite player growing up by selecting the same digit -hence why there are numerous 23’s in the league (paying homage to Michael Jordan and now LeBron James).

Retaining a number throughout your career can become a difficult practice particularly if you play for a team like the Boston Celtics. The Celts have retired copious numbers due to so many championship teams and Hall of Fame players. Likewise, when a player goes to a new team there may already be someone wearing that number. Generally, the more elite players will get the number but the process in how that happens isn’t always simple.

Number resolution:

For the new players arriving the numbers, they sported in the 2018-19 season were as follows:

Conflicts could have arisen as players on the 2018-19 squad wore the same numbers as incoming players. For example, Raymond Felton wore jersey number 2 (like SGA) last season. With Felton still not retained this may not be an issue, but we’ll get into that more below. Likewise, Alex Abrines wore jersey number 8, but he’s no longer with OKC so Gallo has no issues retaining his jersey number. Nor does Muscala have any issues since no one sported number 31 last season.

Obviously, for Chris Paul, he is the most attached to his jersey number given its part of his nickname and brand: CP3.  Yet, Nerlens Noel wore that number last season as he did while with the Mavericks, but wore number 4 when he played for the 76ers.

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While players get all the money from their shoe endorsements it’s the team who makes the revenue off jersey sales. An interesting side note here is when Michael Jordan switched to number 45 from 23 when he returned from playing baseball the league fined him and the Bulls $100,000 for changing his jersey number.

Historically, some players have reached into their wallets to get a teammate to swap and some have taken different routes. Dirk Nowitzki, for example, arrived in Dallas having always worn number 14 but Robert Pack already had that number. Pack was unwilling to do a shooting contest to determine who would claim the number 14 so Nowitzki just flipped the order and wore 41.

Stories of paying a teammate to nab their original jersey number tend to occur more frequently in the NFL and MLB but it does occasionally happen in the NBA (we just don’t hear about it as much). Some of the examples of athletes who took retaining their number seriously and what they did to get it from a teammate are highlighted in this Nick Dimengo Bleacher Report article.

Chris Paul didn’t actually begin playing basketball wearing jersey number 3, that came as a result of combining his previous jersey numbers of 1 and 2. Paul said it also was in reference to his close relationship with his father and brother – so it was the three of them which inspired him selecting the number 3.

What number the new OKC Thunder players will wear:

As it turns out it doesn’t seem to have required too much bartering by Paul with Noel as the latter is giving up the number 3 and will don the number 9 this season. It’s likely Noel didn’t return to the number 4 since Nick Collison‘s number 4 will be retired. I guess the Thunder don’t plan on retiring Serge Ibaka‘s jersey anytime soon.

When Gilgeous-Alexander entered the NBA he was coming from a season in Kentucky where he wore number 22. Oddly he avoided that number and selected number 2. Later in the season Wilson Chandler was traded to the team and sported number 22

As mentioned Raymond Felton wore number 2 last season but remains unsigned. Some thought Gilgeous-Alexander would return to wearing number 22. The last OKC Thunder player to wear that number was Taj Gibson. With both numbers open SGA had his choice but he’s elected to stick with number 2 as per his own social media account.

And, in perhaps a sentimental move (or franchise dictated?) Luguentz Dort who wore 0 in college may be foregoing wearing that number as a certain previous MVP will likely see that number retired eventually at Chesapeake. Therefore Dort has elected to wear number 5.

Next. How Thunder backcourt duo Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander can thrive together. dark

The seeming honor paid to Russell Westbrook by Dort and the organization wasn’t afforded to Kevin Durant who already witnessed P.J. Dozier sport that number even though he made just a brief pitstop in OKC.