NBA Jersey number Rules
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NBA Jersey Number Rules: History, Regulations & More

Jersey numbers in the NBA aren’t just mere identifiers; they are sometimes an integral part of a player’s identity. For a league as prestigious as the NBA, rules governing jersey numbers ensure uniformity, order, and a touch of tradition.

Understanding these rules isn’t just pivotal for the players and the teams, but it’s equally fascinating for fans. This article unpacks the NBA’s jersey number guidelines, their historical context, and the stories they tell on the court.

Key Takeaways

SectionKey Information
Historical ContextEvolution of NBA jersey numbers.
Current NBA Jersey Number RulesPosition-based jersey system & exceptions.
Psychology of Jersey NumbersHow players choose numbers & fan impact.
Iconic Jersey NumbersLegendary players and jersey moments.
Recent Changes and TrendsModern players and number traditions.

The History Of NBA Jersey Numbers

Ellis College’s match against Irvington in 1892 marks the earliest known use of numbered jerseys in basketball, they wore green and white uniforms, respectively.

From its inception, basketball’s approach to jersey numbers was relatively informal. In the early days, players might pick any number that held personal significance or, in some cases, just received a randomly assigned one.

However, as the game grew in stature and the NBA emerged as a premier league, the necessity for a more organized and structured system became evident.

This move towards regulation ensured both a systematic representation on the court and upheld the league’s growing professionalism.

Numbers like Michael Jordan’s 23 aren’t just numerals on a jersey; they’ve become symbols of excellence, aspiration, and inspiration for countless players and fans.

These iconic numbers have transcended the game itself, becoming a part of basketball’s rich tapestry and cultural influence.

For those interested in diving deeper into basketball’s origins and its transformative journey, our article on a brief history of basketball provides a comprehensive look.

Most Decorated Jersey Number in NBA History (MVPs Till 2022/2023 Season)

The NBA has been graced by players whose jersey numbers have come to symbolize their significant contributions to the game.

Arguably, at the pinnacle is jersey number #33, worn by legends like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who claimed 6 MVP awards, and Larry Bird with 3. This number boasts a total of 9 MVP titles.

The #6 jersey, adorned by greats such as Bill Russell (5 MVPs), LeBron James (2 MVPs), and Julius Erving, has secured 8 MVP awards.

Number of MVP Awards by NBA Jersey Number

Further showcasing the legacy of certain jersey numbers, #13 and #23 have each gathered 7 MVPs, thanks to stellar athletes like Wilt Chamberlain (4 MVPs for #13), Steve Nash (2 MVPs for #13), James Harden, Michael Jordan (5 MVPs for #23), and again LeBron James (2 MVPs for #23).

Throughout NBA history, the #32 jersey has been representative of legends like Magic Johnson, with 3 MVPs, Karl Malone, with 2, and Bill Walton, accumulating 6 MVP awards.

The #34, worn by powerhouses such as Giannis Antetokounmpo (2 MVPs), Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, and Hakeem Olajuwon, boasts 5 MVPs.

Rounding out the top 8 numbers are #21, worn by Tim Duncan (2 MVPs) and Kevin Garnett, and #24, worn by Moses Malone (2 MVPs) and Kobe Bryant, with 3 MVPs each.

What Are The NBA Jersey Number Rules?

As far as the NBA jersey number rules go, there aren’t many! The numbers that players wear in the NBA are selectable by teams. The numbers players can wear during NBA games are only subject to a few limitations.

The NBA allows fifteen different digits that include everything from 0-99, as well as 00!

NBA Jersey Numbers By Position

There are no position restrictions put in place regarding which digit a player needs to wear so long as it falls within the mentioned range.

The positional play has nothing to do with the NBA uniform numbers. Because it is simpler for officials to distinguish them on the court, NBA teams typically have a set of players who play the same position and wear similar numbers.

Take for example, a player like Michael Jordan who played multiple positions, it would not have been wise for the NBA to have him constantly switching numbers, for a whole lot of reasons.

Does The NBA Allow Three-Digit Numbers?

Simply put, no! Teams are only permitted to use one to two digits on NBA jerseys, according to NBA number restrictions. For NBA games, NBA players are not permitted to use numbers greater than 99.

The NBA has attempted to make changes in the past but was met with a lot of pushback by fans., especially those who were used to watching their favorite players wearing specific jersey numbers.

NBA Jersey number rules

Number Unavailabilities

Retired Jersey Numbers

In the NBA, not all numbers are available for selection. Teams retire certain jersey numbers in tribute to their legendary players, ensuring that their legacy remains untouched and revered.

This means future players can’t wear that specific number, even if it holds personal significance to them.

Number Conflicts and Resolutions

A unique challenge arises when players switch teams and find their preferred jersey number already in use or retired by the new team.

Instead of simply assigning a new number, players might engage in discussions with the current number holder, which can lead to friendly agreements or even financial arrangements.

These situations, although rare, emphasize the deep personal and historical connections players have with their numbers.

Is The Number 69 Illegal In The NBA?

The NBA does not allow any player to wear the #69 in an NBA game because of its indecent connotations. Although never officially confirmed, the NBA will not permit the number 69 to be worn on NBA jerseys, however players may wear jersey numbers in the 70s or 80s.

NBA Jersey Number Change Rules

What takes place when a basketball player requests a new number? Per league regulations, players are required to seek permission from both the league office and their teams before making a jersey number change.

Usually, players are expected to make such changes during the offseason or a lengthy break in the game schedule. This pause ensures adequate time for merchandise updates and other related logistics.

Plus, it gives fans like us a chance to snag the latest gear featuring our favorite players!

Exceptions For Jersey Number Changes

In certain situations, the league might allow immediate jersey changes in light of significant events or unique circumstances. For instance;

  • Upon LeBron James’ return to the Cleveland Cavaliers post his time with the Miami Heat, he received an exception to revert from #6 (his Miami number) to his former #23.
  • In March 1995, Michael Jordan famously changed from 23 to 45 when he came out of retirement after three years away from basketball.
  • After the heartrending loss of Kobe Bryant, several players approached the NBA to switch their jersey numbers to one of Kobe’s legendary digits (#8 or #24) in homage to Black Mamba.

Kobe’s Number Swaps

Kobe Bryant is the only player in league history to have two jersey numbers retired with the same team. The star changing numbers, going from #8 to #24, midway through his career. 

Bryant won three NBA championship titles as #8 and his final two wearing #24. He appeared in eight All-Star games with his first number and ten after the jersey swap.

He won a scoring title with each number and scored 16,777 points repping #8 and 16,866 points wearing #24. 

Kobe Bryant's NBA Jersey Numbers

Many NBA fans believed that there was a theory the the reason why Kobe changed his number to 24 is to signify that he’s the “one better than Jordan”, who famously adorned the number 23 jersey.

However, in a Knuckleheads podcast, he revealed the real reason of why he chose the #24;

“It was about approaching every day as if it was my last. I had to have that mentality; I have to drive this team every day.

There’s no days off. Every time I look at that number (#24), it’s like today is the most important day.”

Kobe Bryant

The Psychology of Jersey Numbers

Choosing a jersey number isn’t a mere administrative task for players. It’s deeply personal, rooted in individual narratives, beliefs, and aspirations. Some players pick numbers reflecting significant dates, like birthdays or anniversaries.

Others might honor past legends or family members by choosing a particular digit. Superstition also plays a significant role. Athletes, known for their rituals, often associate specific numbers with luck or past successes.

A good game in a particular number could make it their permanent choice, believing it brings good fortune. Moreover, jersey numbers form a powerful bond between players and fans.

A distinctive or iconic jersey number can become synonymous with a player’s identity, making it a sought-after piece of merchandise. Consider the cultural impact of numbers like 23 (Jordan) or 24 (Kobe).

Additionally, when players switch teams, they often face the dilemma of maintaining their identity or adopting a new one. Such changes can be influenced by various factors, from team dynamics to personal growth.

Delve into the psyche of players further and explore the reasons they might switch teams and possibly alter their jersey numbers.

Iconic NBA Jersey Numbers

Throughout the annals of the NBA, certain jersey numbers have transcended the game and become emblematic of the legends who wore them.

  • Magic Johnson’s #32 signifies a career filled with magical assists and game-changing plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, driving them to numerous championships.
  • Larry Bird, donning the #33, epitomized the Boston Celtics’ grit, showcasing exceptional skills, clutch performances, and an enduring rivalry with Magic’s Lakers.
  • Michael Jordan’s #23, perhaps the most emblematic number in basketball, signifies a legacy of unmatched dominance, six NBA titles, and numerous MVP awards with the Chicago Bulls.
Iconic NBA Jersey Numbers

Why Do NBA Teams Retire Jersey Numbers?

Teams, recognizing the weight these numbers carry and the monumental contributions of these players, have often chosen to retire such iconic numbers.

Kobe Bryant’s two retired numbers, #8 and #24 for the Lakers, further signify the intertwined nature of jersey numbers and player legacies.

This is a gesture of immense respect, ensuring that no other player in the team’s future will wear that particular number/s. These numbers serve as a constant reminder of the achievements and legacy of these NBA greats.

Dirk Nowitzki’s Mavericks Jersey Retirement #41Forever

While jersey numbers might seem like a small detail, for fans, they often link to memorable moments and iconic NBA player nicknames in the league’s storied history.

Notable Jersey Numbers Shared By NBA Legends

Jersey NumberNBA Players
#33Kareem Abdul-Jabbar*, Larry Bird*, Patrick Ewing*, Marc Gasol, Grant Hill, Alonzo Mourning*, Scottie Pippen*, Charlie Scott, David Thompson*
#32Billy Cunningham*, Blake Griffin, Richard Hamilton*, Magic Johnson*, Jason Kidd, Karl Malone*, Kevin McHale*, Shaquille O’Neal*, Amar’e Stoudemire, Karl-Anthony Towns, Bill Walton*
#21Dave Bing*, Vlade Divac*, Tim Duncan*, Joel Embiid, Kevin Garnett, Dominique Wilkins*
#34Ray Allen, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Charles Barkley, Austin Carr*, Shaquille O’Neal*, Hakeem Olajuwon*, Paul Pierce*
#13Bam Adebayo, Wilt Chamberlain*, Paul George, Mark Jackson, Steve Nash, Joakim Noah
#23Michael Jordan, LeBron James
#24Kobe Bryant, Moses Malone, Rick Barry
#6 Andrew Bogut, Walter Davis*, Julius Erving*, LeBron James, Avery Johnson*, Bill Russell*
*denotes retired number

Recent Changes and Trends in Jersey Numbers

As the NBA landscape shifts, the conventions surrounding jersey numbers have evolved too. The league has adjusted its regulations to accommodate the changing dynamics, reflecting the modern era’s spirit and preferences.

One intriguing trend observed lately is the penchant for rookies to switch their jersey numbers, unlike veteran players who often stick with a single number throughout their careers.

Many of today’s young players experiment with different numbers in their initial seasons, possibly reflecting their journey to find their identity in the league.

This trend, along with others, showcases the ever-changing nature of the NBA and its players. For those just starting to delve into the intricacies of the league, our comprehensive NBA and basketball guides offer a thorough understanding of what to expect.


Jersey numbers in the NBA aren’t just random choices; they carry history, significance, and often personal stories. These numbers bridge the gap between players and fans, turning simple digits into symbols of legacy.

How about you? Tell us your favorite NBA jersey number… or what number you would choose in basketball games.


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