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The Big Recycle: What’s in a Number?

Some of the Wizards’ newest players are wearing familiar numbers

Washington Wizards
Wizards wing Bilal Coulibaly
Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

The strongest connection any basketball player will have to a number is the one they wear on their shirt. It’s both irrelevant and critical — surely a jersey number doesn’t affect a guy’s performance, and yet it’s a primary identification.

Refs don’t walk to the scorers table and say, “I got a foul on Avdija.” They flash all five fingers on one hand and four on the other to signify his number: 9.

With 61 years on the franchise odometer, most of the popular numbers have some history. So let’s take a look and see what we can learn from this year’s summer league roster.

  • 00 — Tristan Vukcevic — The team’s latest second round selection chose a number worn by just three people in franchise history: Kevin Duckworth, Brendan Haywood and Mike Bibby. Duckworth was three years removed from his only All-Star game appearance, but well into the quest to eat his way out of the league. He performed poorly in two seasons. The double zero was actually Haywood’s second number with the team — he wore 3 as a rookie, switched to 00 for year two, and then to his final form of 33. Bibby was the shortest-tenured 00 in franchise history — just two games and 29 total minutes.
  • 0 — Bilal Coulibaly — Agent Zero. Hibachi. The Gilbert Arenas number, quite literally — he’s the only person in franchise to don 0. He switched to 9 for reasons that might have made sense to him. Zero is a bold choice from the 18-year old rookie, but I like it. Don’t shy away from comparisons to the best guard in franchise history — surpass him.
  • 1 — Johnny Davis — This number was worn by 19 different players, including Kevin Porter, Gus Williams, Muggsy Bogues, Jared Jeffries, Nick Young, Trevor Ariza, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and — most auspiciously — Rod Strickland. Davis needs to make a big leap to live up to the number...unless he wants to follow the well-trodden path of disappointing Wizards like Chandler Hutchison, Edwin Ubiles, Austin Rivers and Admiral Schofield (among others).
  • 2 — Ryan Rollins — It’s not entirely clear (yet) that Rollins will take number 2, which would be brave considering it was worn by franchise luminaries including John Wall and Chris Webber. Wall, of course, was a five-time All-Star before his career was wrecked with injuries. Webber wore it for one season before switching to his more familiar 4.
  • 5 — D. J. Stewart — The number 5 sets a relatively low bar for Stewart. For Washington, it’s a number of mostly disappointment and mediocrity. It was worn by Juwan Howard (mid), Kwame Brown (bust), Markieff Morris (mid), and Will Barton (blech). Dan Roundfield toted the digit before abruptly retiring 36 games into his second season with the team, and then signing to play in Italy for another year. The best 5 in franchise history: Darrell Walker, a rugged guard who defended, rebounded, dished assists and laid bricks.
  • 7 — Patrick Baldwin Jr. — Speaking of low bars, we’ve arrived at the number 7. For Wizards/Bullets basketball, it’s been the number of fan-fave scrubs like Laron Profit (who also wore number 3 for the team), Al Harrington, and Andray Blatche. Jordan Goodwin wore the number last season.
  • 8 — Jules Bernard — I’m guessing Bernard, a 6-6 wing, wears 8 to honor Kobe Bryant, but the number has great history for the franchise. It was worn by Walt Bellamy, Tyrone Nesby (okay, maybe not that great), Javaris Crittenton (not sure what number he wears now), and most recently Rui Hachimura. Hey, Bellamy was good!
  • 10 — Dejan Vasiljevic — Now this is an auspicious number. Tens through team history include Don Ohl (five-time All-Star, including three in Baltimore), Kevin Porter, Bob Dandridge (who helped win the franchise’s only championship), Manute Bol, and Michael Adams. If Vasiljevic makes the team, he’ll need a new number — 10 was retired to honor Earl Monroe.
  • 11 — Kyle Alexander — Just seven players have worn 11 in franchise history, most of them forgettable. That said, if he makes the team, Alexander will have to find a new number — 11 was retired to honor Elvin Hayes, one of the greatest figures in franchise history.
  • 12 — Xavier Cooks — The number 12 is tied with 22 as the most popular number in franchise history. Each one has had 25 different players wear it. With that many 12s, you might think the was a good one at some point. That thought would be wrong. The best Wizards/Bullets/Zephyrs 12 might be Chris Whitney. Yes, I’m serious. I’d listen to arguments for Nick Weatherspoon before rejecting them. Otherwise...I mean, this is the number of guys like Bill McGill, end-of-the-line Gene Shue, Ron Behagen, Tom Hammonds, Earl Boykins, A.J. Price, Kelly Oubre Jr., Jerome Robinson...Yeesh.
  • 21 — Osun Osunniyi — Another popular number, this one worn by 18 different players — some good, some...well...not so good. The first to wear 21 was the brilliantly named Slick Leonard. Along the way, it appeared on Archie Clark, Dave Bing, and Ledell Eackles. It’s currently the property of Daniel Gafford, so Osunniyi will have to wear something else if he makes the big team. It was also the number of the ignominious Kenny Green. The Bullets chose Green one pick ahead of Karl Malone. He was so bad they traded him during his rookie season for Leon Wood. His new team (Philadelphia) released him partway through his second season, and he never played in the NBA again.
  • 23 — Donovan Williams — The digits made famous by Michael Jordan, who also wore them in DC. Washington favorites also used the number, including John Williamson, The Great Charles Jones, and three-point specialist Tim Legler.
  • 29 — Quenton Jackson — Including Jackson, just two Wizards have worn 29. The other was Mike Wilks, a diminutive point guard who appeared in 233 career games with eight different teams across seven seasons.