We are inside of one month until the start of the 2019-20 NBA season, when the league’s many new superstar pairings will finally be unveiled. What better way to pass the time than to count down the final 55 days by arguing over who wore each jersey number best until we reach No. 00.
There are currently 15 days until the season opener on Oct. 22. So, who wore No. 15 best?
Carmelo Anthony, the 10-time All-Star in the NBA’s unemployment line, wore No. 15 for his first seven-plus seasons until he engineered a trade to the New York Knicks. Seemingly on a path bound for legend status, ‘Melo adopted No. 7 in New York, where he peaked as a top-three MVP candidate before his style of play became antiquated quicker than anyone anticipated.
Matt Bonner, aka Red Rocket, aka Red Mamba, a two-time champion and beloved teammate on the San Antonio Spurs, had his No. 15 jokingly retired on his go-to flannel shirt inside the team’s locker room.
Al Cervi, a Hall of Fame coach, dropped out of high school to play for the National Basketball League’s Buffalo Bisons, left for five years to serve in the Army Air Forces during World War II, and returned to stardom in the NBL, including an MVP campaign.
DeMarcus Cousins, the four-time All-Star, sported No. 15 for his first six-plus seasons, when we wondered what might have been had he played alongside more talented teammates, but switched to No. 0 ever since, when we now wonder what might be had he stayed healthy playing alongside some of the greatest players of his generation.
Wayne Embry, a Hall of Famer, donned No. 15 for the Cincinnati Royals during his string of five straight All-Star appearances. When that run was done, he was about to take a sales job with Pepsi when Bill Russell talked him out of retirement, and Embry went on to add the 1968 NBA championship to his résumé before enjoying a pioneering career as GM of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Chris Gatling, the 1997 All-Star turned cyber fraud.
Ernie DiGregorio, the gregarious 1974 Rookie of the Year and the league-leader in assists that season, suffered an early career knee injury that sapped the pizzazz from his game and led to an early retirement that landed him a job instead at Foxwoods.
Tom Gola, a Hall of Famer and one of the earliest college basketball legends, sported No. 15 for the first three of his five All-Star appearances as well as a 1958 title run with the Philadelphia Warriors that came upon his return from U.S. military service.
Alex Groza, a two-time champion at the University of Kentucky, wore No. 15 for his only two seasons — the first of which earned him a rookie of the year award from sportswriters and the second of which included a 1951 All-Star Game appearance —before news broke of his alleged involvement in the CCNY point-shaving scandal, leading to his banishment from the NBA.
Richie Guerin, a U.S. Marine Reservist turned Hall of Fame player and beloved coach and broadcaster, turned to No. 15 with the St. Louis Hawks in 1963. He never made another All-Star Game after six straight wearing No. 9 for the New York Knicks.
Al Horford, the five-time All-Star, wore No. 15 for his first nine seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, but has since switched to No. 42 with the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers. If you hadn’t noticed, you were probably just distracted by those gorgeous eyes.
Warren Jabali, a four-time ABA All-Star and poignant writer who selected that last name for its Swahili meaning, “Rock,” sported No. 15 for his 1969 ABA Rookie of the Year campaign and half of his four peak seasons.
Vinnie Johnson, the “Microwave,” a two-time champion whose No. 15 is retired by the Detroit Pistons.
Jimmy Jones, a six-time ABA All-Star.
Danny Manning, a two-time All-Star, captured 1998 Sixth Man of the Year honors wearing No. 15 for the Phoenix Suns, soon after becoming the first player in NBA history to return from reconstructive surgery on both knees.
Latrell Sprewell, a four-time All-Star, wore No. 15 for his six seasons with the Golden State Warriors, right up until he choked P.J. Carlesimo at practice. He switched to No. 8 for tumultuous runs with the New York Knicks and Minnesota Timberwolves.
Scott Wedman, a beloved teammate and the butt of Larry Bird’s vegetarian jokes, sported No. 15 for both of his All-Star appearances with the Kansas City Kings, before his Memorial Day Massacre effort in a No. 8 jersey led to a title in Boston.
Chuck Cooper, a Hall of Famer and the first black player ever drafted into the NBA, donned No. 15 for a single season with the Milwaukee Hawks, following his pioneering four-year run with the Boston Celtics in the early 1950s.
Bailey Howell, a Hall of Famer who looks like he might have been cut from a “Hoosiers” casting call for looking too perfect for the part, wore No. 15 for two seasons with the Baltimore Bullets, between his peaks in a No. 18 jersey as a perennial All-Star on the Detroit Pistons and a two-time champion with the Boston Celtics.
Sidney Moncrief, a Hall of Famer and one of the guys old-timers will tell you was better than he gets credit for, wore No. 15 for a single season with the Atlanta Hawks after a year out of the game. His No. 4 is retired by the Milwaukee Bucks.
Mark Price, the sharpshooting four-time All-Star, sported No. 15 for a single season with the Washington Bullets, one derailed for all but seven games by a foot injury. Seems like maybe he should have stuck with No. 25.
Lenny Wilkens, the Hall of Fame player and coach who has seemingly worn every number in the teens, sported No. 15 for a season with the St. Louis Hawks — the year before he made the first of nine All-Star appearances over the next 11 seasons.
Nikola Jokic, the All-Star center and arguably the greatest passing big man in NBA history already, is a career No. 15, easily making him the best active player in that jersey, especially since Kemba Walker was forced into a different number in Boston.
Vince Carter, a future Hall of Famer, has worn No. 15 for all but a four-year stretch that seems less like a late-career stretch by the season. All eight of his All-Star appearances came in No. 15 jerseys for the Toronto Raptors and New Jersey Nets, including his 1999 Rookie of the Year campaign and 2000 slam dunk contest title — the greatest show in the history of All-Star Weekend.
Hal Greer, a Hall of Famer overshadowed in early greatest guard debates by Oscar Robertson and Jerry West, donned No. 15 for the entirety of a 15-year career for the Syracuse Nationals and Philadelphia 76ers that included 10 All-Star appearances and a 1967 NBA championship alongside Wilt Chamberlain. Greer’s No. 15 was the first retired by the Sixers.
Dick McGuire, one half of the only brothers to both be inducted into the Hall of Fame, along with Al, wore No. 15 for 11 seasons as a playmaking point guard with the New York Knicks and Detroit Pistons, including seven All-Star appearances.
Earl Monroe, aka Black Jesus and Earl the Pearl, the inspiration for Jesus Shuttlesworth, sported No. 15 for the final eight seasons of a flashy 13-year Hall of Fame career, including two of his four All-Star appearances and a 1973 championship run. He wore No. 33 en route to the 1968 Rookie of the Year award, and many of his greatest contributions to the game came even before then, when he was a shake-and-bake legend on the playgrounds of South Philadelphia.
The Jersey Champion
Tom Heinsohn, a Hall of Fame player and coach (and should-be Hall of Fame broadcaster), won eight championships wearing No. 15 over nine seasons for the Boston Celtics, a run that started with the 1957 Rookie of the Year award and included six All-Star appearances. His No. 15 hangs in TD Garden, where he continues to dominate conversation 54 years after retiring as a player and 41 years after retiring from a coaching career that saw two more titles. Nobody is more closely tied to an organization, and you can still hear it in Heinsohn’s hoarse voice every time the referees blow a whistle in the opponent’s favor.
Give him a Tommy point.
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