Ask anyone who played sports growing up – or a professional athlete, if one’s available – what their “number” is. In short order, they’ll give you the number and its significance. By the time you start playing CYO hoops or maybe the local pub’s softball team, you’ll probably take whichever number is available. When you’re playing for keeps, the number on your back is serious stuff.
In the NBA, it’s a matter of marketability. It’s a matter of identity – even for the game’s biggest names.
Several former Cavalier greats have switched numbers throughout their stay, including Campy Russell (Nos. 4, 20, and 21), Terrell Brandon (Nos. 1, 11) and even Larry Nance (Nos. 22, 6). Of course, there are six numbers that’ll never be worn again: 42 – Nate Thurmond, 7 – Bingo Smith, 34 – Austin Carr, 43 – Brad Daugherty, 25 – Mark Price, and 11 – Zydrunas Ilgauskas. And there’s one that’s been retired – 22 – Larry Nance – that’s been brought back to court by his son.
With that in mind, here are some of the current Cavaliers’ uniform numbers and the stories behind them in this edition of By the Numbers, presented by FanDuel.
0 … Kevin Love: Love wore No. 42 throughout his career at UCLA and in Minnesota, but that digit belongs to a Cavalier legend. (As did his second and third choice.)
“All respect to Nate Thurmond, I really appreciate him and pay my homage to him for having the conversation of allowing me to wear the No. 42,” said the four-time All-Star. “But I thought this was a chance for me to one, start fresh, and two, pick a new number that would suit me. Then I looked at ‘11’ which is my Olympic number. (Zydrunas Ilgauskas) had that number. So the third one I was going to pick was No. 7 because my mom had that as my lucky number growing up. And No. 7 was taken by Bingo (Smith).
”So I went all the way back to my grass roots and my first number I ever played with. I remember showing up to a game in Beaverton, Oregon with a brand new team in the inner city that I was supposed to play with. I was the last guy to the gym for the tournament, and there was the ‘0’ for me. That’s the story behind it.”
1 … Rodney Hood: The lefty swingman who came to Cleveland in a Deadline deal last February wore No. 5 at Duke and during his first three-and-a-half years in Utah. But when he was traded to the Wine & Gold, Hood went back to the future – choosing the number he wore back at Meridian High School in Meridian, Mississippi.
2 … Collin Sexton: The Young Bull is a man of action and few words – and not much rattles the rookie, including assuming the number of his unique predecessor. In the end, it was an easy choice – Sexton simply went with the numeral he’s worn throughout his burgeoning young career.
“I’ve been wearing No. 2 since high school and I wore it in college,” said Sexton. “So I was like: Let’s keep it going!”
3 … George Hill: Cleveland’s veteran point guard, who also arrived in a Deadline deal late last season, has a very simple explanation for wearing No. 3 – a numeral he’s donned going back to his high school days and at IUPUI and in each of his pro stints with San Antonio, Indiana and Utah.
As an only child, it was only him, his father and mother. Thus, the number three.
5 … JR Smith: The man they call “Swish” wore a familiar number when he arrived as a rookie out of high school in 2004 – No. 23. He went with No. 1 when he was dealt to the Nuggets in 2007 but switched to No. 5 in his final season in Denver. Smith wore No. 8 with the Knicks but returned to 5 when he came to Cleveland.
“My aunt – Katie Smith – wore No. 5 when she played in high school – (I did too) – and now I still wear it because of her.”