Shaquille O'Neal will be wearing No. 33 for the Cavs next season. He chose this number, presumably, because he's a huge fan of Rolling Rock. Or because it's the number he wore during high school and while dominating the paint in college for LSU.
Either way, it's the first time the Big Witness will be wearing his old number as a pro. When he landed in Orlando as the first overall pick in the 1992 NBA Draft, he donned a 32. During his first year with the Magic, 33 was already being worn by Terry Catledge, who had been with the team since 1989. Now, I'm sure Shaq could have convinced Catledge to give it up — through bribery or throttling — but apparently Shaq was cool with the numerical change because, even after Catledge left Orlando the following year, Shaq stuck with 32 through his Magic tenure.
When he joined the Lakers, he took No. 34 because 32 and 33 were already retired by the organization in honor of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, respectively. When he hit South Beach as a member of the Heat, he returned to 32 and kept it as his services were shipped to Phoenix and he became the Big Cactus.
Now it's No. 33 on the shores of Lake Erie, and we won't know exactly why until Shaq stops by town for his press conference in a couple of weeks. Even then, we might not get a straight answer. According to the team, Shaq asked for the number, but there were no indications why. He could have done it in deference to Joe Smith, who wore No. 32 for the Cavs last season and may or may not be back for the next campaign. And frankly, the Rolling Rock thing wouldn't surprise me.
The last time a number issue came up — and really, there was never any real issue — was when Devin Brown joined the team. "He had always liked/worn number 23," said Tad Carper, Cavs Senior VP of Communications. "As you can imagine, there was no debate or discussion about that. Devin happily wore number 33, and played well in it, I might add. He switched back to 23 for the Hornets last season."
Which brings us full circle, since Devin was the last Cavalier to wear 33. That, combined with the surprising interest in the number choice around the blogosphere, means that the uniform number history of the Cavs is newsworthy and timely right now. Actually, with the exception of a few of these, there's no earthly reason for you to know any of this stuff, but that's why I'm here.
• Shaq will be 12th Cavalier to wear the No. 33. The others: Devin Brown ('08); Derrick Chievous ('90, '91); Luke Jackson ('05, '06); Kannard Johnson ('88); Jumaine Jones ('02, '03); Donny Marshal ('96, '97); Ben McDonald ('86); Mike Sanders ('92, '93); Paul Thompson ('84, '85); Bob Wilkerson ('82, '83); Bill Willoughby ('80).
• The number that has been worn by the most different number of Cavs? That would be No. 24, which has been worn by 13 players (Fred Foster, John lamber, Kevin Restani, Carl Nicks, Keith Lee, Chris Dudley, Gerald Paddio, Jimmy Oliver, Chris Mills, Andre Miller, Jason Kopono, Donyell Marshall and Trey Johnson).
• The numbers that have been worn least (among numbers that have been worn at least once): 7 (Bingo Smith); 29 (Mike Wilks); 34 (Austin Carr); 51 (Michael Doleac); 90 (Drew Gooden). Wilks also the last player to choose a number that had never been used before.
• Number that has been worn at least once but is in the longest drought of not being used: 16, last worn by Gary Alexander in 1994. Number that had the longest drought between two different players: 19, worn by Lenny Wilkins in 1974, and then not again until Damon Jones in 2006.
• Player to wear the most numbers: Campy Russell, who at different times wore 20, 21 and 4. Other players to wear multiple numbers throughout their Cavalier tenure: Steve Kerr (4 and 5); Terrell Brandon (1 and 11).
• Most people know that Larry Nance's No. 22 is retired, but did you know he wore No. 6 his first year with the team?
• Numbers that have never been worn: 26, 28, 36, 37, 38, 39, 46, 48, 49, 53, 56-89, 91-99.
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