A new season begins tonight in the AJBL. And, with it, comes a new identity for me. Currently, I am one of two players on my team wearing the number “6”. I am being switched to number “7” as a result. (Interestingly enough, the other number “6” on my team was my first ever coach in organized basketball some 23+ years ago. He led us to a championship that season and is a great man, so I would defer to him every time.)
What’s the big deal, you might ask? In sports, a player’s number becomes part of his identity. Name and number go hand in hand. Historically, numbers are synonymous with the greats – most of us can name the most famous number “3” in baseball, number “23” in basketball and number “99” in hockey, for instance. When a player starts his career, he chooses a number for whatever reason. It may be his favorite number. His favorite player may have worn it. He thinks it’s a cool looking digit or two. Or it’s a lucky number or superstitious type of thing. He hopes one day this number will be retired and forever be a reminder of how great a player he was.
As for me, I’ve worn a few numbers over the years. I recall choosing to wear number “8” way before Kobe chose it. I simply liked the number. I later went on to wear number “11”, as I was a huge Isaiah Thomas fan when I was a kid. I’ve also worn numbers “1” and “10”, most likely as smaller numbers were given to the smaller kids, and I was certainly always among the smallest on my team. And I was OK with these and grew to like them as well. Penny Hardaway and Maurice Cheeks anyone?
I’ve played 4 seasons in the AJBL all as the number “6”. As you may know, the great Julius Erving wore this number on the Sixers. So when I was given that number, I was just fine with that. Would I become a legend in this league like Dr. J was in the pros? When a foul was called, sometimes I’d aid the referee in identifying myself so he didn’t have to turn me around to see what number I was. Well, now I have to reprogram. Re-identify. Is it really a big deal?
To me, it might take a game to get used to it. Certainly the feel of the ironed on character on my back won’t be that different, will it? I should hope not. My new jersey might have that new car smell. Shouldn’t take long to sweat it up!
For starters, it should be enough that the number ”7” is considered lucky to many people. I’ll gladly accept that. But there’s more than luck to this game. If I’m not playing like Julius Erving – dare I imply that I ever did! – who will I be emulating this season? Off-hand, I couldn’t even think of any famous “7”s in basketball. I Googled it right away, and the first few players that I found were quite impressive. Kenny Anderson anyone? A stud at Georgia Tech, who I quickly took a liking to in the early 90s. Tiny Archibald? A hall-of-famer! Perhaps the greatest player on this list might be another hall-of-famer, “Pistol” Pete Maravich. Truly a magician on the basketball court. Transitioning to this number shouldn’t be so difficult after all.
So here’s to a fantastic season. I hope I can achieve even the slightest morsel of what the greats before me have achieved. A no-look pass here, a reverse lay-up there. Who knows what will be in store? I do know one thing – I’ll already have luck on my side….or rather, on my back.