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 17 days until the season opener on Oct. 22. So, who wore No. 17 best?
Brent Barry, one of Hall of Famer Rick Barry’s three sons to play in the NBA, wore No. 31 for his unlikely warmup jacket-clad dunk contest victory, but No. 17 for two championship runs with the San Antonio Spurs — before Tony Parker spoiled his fun.
Andrew Bynum, a two-time champion, 2012 All-Star and big Miller Lite guy, wore No. 17 for his seven-season ascent to stardom before his knees pushed his career off a cliff.
Gene Conley, the only athlete ever to win titles in the NBA and Major League Baseball, wore No. 17 on three championship runs with the Boston Celtics. A four-time All-Star pitcher, he wore No. 22 for the Milwaukee Braves en route to a World Series crown.
Devin Durrant, an actual NBA player in the 1980s, not a Kevin Durant burner account.
Mario Elie, who turned to No. 17 in honor of high school (and Golden State Warriors) teammate Chris Mullin, wore it for all three of his title runs, including his “Kiss of Death” for the Houston Rockets in Game 7 of the 1995 Western Conference semifinals.
Rick Fox, a.k.a. Jackson Vahue on “Oz,” renounced in 1997 by the Boston Celtics so Rick Pitino could give Travis Knight a seven-year contract, switched from No. 44 to 17 and won three championships with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Jack George, a.k.a. the Boy Wonder of the Nation’s Capital, donned No. 17 for a five-year run with the Philadelphia Warriors that featured two All-Star appearances and the 1957 NBA championship.
Bob Houbregs, whose Hall of Fame résumé I cannot quite figure out, wore No. 17 for the last three of his five NBA seasons.
Wah Wah Jones, a two-time NCAA champion at the University of Kentucky and a legendary name.
Jeremy Lin, the pioneering Asian-American basketball player, donned No. 17 for his two crowning NBA achievements — the mind-boggling Linsanity fortnight with the New York Knicks and his championship run as a reserve on the 2019 Toronto Raptors.
Bones McKinney, a two-time All-Basketball Association of America selection turned ordained minister and comedic coach, wore No. 17 in all seven seasons of a career spent between the Washington Capitols and Boston Celtics.
Monk Meineke, the NBA’s first Rookie of the Year and a fantastic name.
Anderson Varejão, the flop artist, a.k.a. Sideshow Bob before Robin Lopez stole his look, donned No. 17 for 11-plus seasons on the Cleveland Cavaliers, before being dumped midway through the 2015-16 season and joining the 73-win Golden State Warriors, who of course lost to those same Cavs in stunning Finals fashion. Varejão turned down a championship ring from the Cavaliers that summer, but accepted one from the Warriors a year later despite playing only 14 regular-season games for them.
Dick Garmaker, a four-time All-Star with a strong name, settled on No. 17 for a single season with the New York Knicks, after making four straight All-Star appearances in Nos. 16 and 18 on the Lakers and Knicks, respectively. Weird move, Dick.
Cliff Hagan, a Hall of Famer who was drafted by the Celtics, served two years in the military at Andrews Air Force Base and was traded for Bill Russell before ever wearing a Boston uniform, wore No. 17 for a portion of his rookie season on the St. Louis Hawks. He switched to No. 16 in his sophomore campaign, won the 1958 NBA title and made five straight All-Star appearances.
Earl Lloyd, a.k.a. Big Cat, a.k.a. the Moon Fixer, a Hall of Famer and the first African-American to ever play in the NBA, turned to No. 17 for the final two seasons of a nine-year career interrupted by military service.
Andy Phillip, a Hall of Famer and champion at every level, turned to No. 17 for his late-career NBA title campaign with Boston, but sported a trio of different numbers for two different teams during a five-year stretch of consecutive All-Star appearances.
Lenny Wilkens, the Hall of Fame player and coach, only wore No. 17 for the Portland Trail Blazers in his 15th and final season.
P.J. Tucker, the bruising Swiss Army knife of a player for the Houston Rockets, gets the nod from me for best active player in a No. 17 jersey, especially after veterans J.J. Redick and Pau Gasol switched back to their traditional numbers after trying No. 17. It is a decent group, though, this No. 17 crew, also including Jonas Valančiūnas, Ed Davis, Garrett Temple and Dennis Schröder.
Don Barksdale, a Hall of Famer and trailblazing disc jockey, television host and beer distributor in the Bay Area, was the first African-American to represent his country in basketball at the Olympics and among the first black players to integrate the NBA at age 28 in 1951. His NBA career started late due to segregation and ended early because of ankle injuries. In between, he wore No. 17 for three of his four seasons, including with the Baltimore Bullets for his lone All-Star campaign in 1953.
Chris Mullin, a Hall of Famer, Dream Team member and nearly the only person ever to beat Larry Bird in a shooting contest, sported No. 17 for the entirety of a 16-year career spent between the Golden State Warriors and Indiana Pacers.
Jim Pollard, a.k.a. The Kangaroo Kid, a Hall of Famer for some reason also known as The Man With the Long Gray Beard, entered professional basketball as a 26-year-old in 1948 after spending four post-college years in the Coast Guard during World War II. He wore No. 17 for all seven of his seasons on the Minneapolis Lakers, earning four All-Star nods and winning five titles.
The Jersey Champion
John Havlicek, maybe the most underrated superstar in the history of the NBA and an early Wendy’s investor, donned No. 17 throughout a 16-year Hall of Fame career with the Celtics that included 13 All-Star appearances, 11 All-NBA nods, eight All-Defensive selections and eight championships (plus the 1974 Finals MVP honor). Also drafted by the Cleveland Browns, the relentless Havlicek retired as the NBA’s third all-time leading scorer behind only Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson. Mullin wore No. 17 in his honor, and Elie wore No. 17 in Mullin’s honor, which makes Havlicek the greatest grandfather of No. 17.
Steal that ball, Hondo.
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