It's come to my attention that a few NBA teams have tweaked their uniform design in recent days. The Lakers, I think we can all be grateful, are not one of them. Their uniforms have not changed significantly in over 10 years, reflecting the organization's admirable reluctance not to fidget with a timeless and, dare I say, regal look.
Before the 1999-2000 season, the drop shadow around the numbers was eliminated, but since then the Lakers' on-court apparel has varied only for special occasions. One of the alternate kits (the Sunday whites) was a stroke of brilliance and has become a permanent addition to the wardrobe. Some of the alterations (e.g., the "Los Lakers" wordmark for Latino Night) are decent enough, if aesthetically unexciting. And one (the ‘80s-throwback short shorts) was a phantasmagoric horror show that lasted two whole quarters before the garments in question were banished forever.
All this talk of uniform design the last few days has led me to think about jersey numbers, and in particular the Lakers who've worn particular numbers over the years. So starting today, I'm kicking off a new series, in which I name the all-time greatest Laker for each uniform number that's ever been worn in team history. We'll kick things off at the low end, with numbers zero through nine, and we'll continue working upward from there the next time I'm at a loss for something to write about.
Number 0 or 00: This is my favorite of all basketball jersey numbers. Actually, the single zero is my favorite. I love its starkness and unorthodoxy, its simplicity and symmetry. (I've never really understood the double zero. If it's zero, why do you need the second digit? It's not like anyone's jersey number is 06.)
Not too many Lakers have rocked the mighty zero over the years. The last to have done so is the unforgettable Soumaila Samake, who followed in the planet-rattling footsteps of Benoit Benjamin. Together, those two played less than 400 minutes for the franchise. So the honor here goes to Orlando Woolridge, who spent a couple years with the Lakers in the middle of his career. He was a bench player for the 1989 and 1990 teams and was especially productive in the latter of those years, putting up about 13 points a game on 60% True Shooting.
Number 1: Sorry, Smush. I'm going with Anthony Peeler on this one. Peeler was a pretty useful guy in a couple respects. He was a solid scorer off the bench for four seasons, putting up double-digit point totals most nights thanks to a good three-point stroke. Of greater importance, he was part of the July 1996 trade to the Vancouver Grizzlies that freed up the cap space necessary to sign Shaquille O'Neal. Caron Butler, who also wore number 1 with the Lakers, was a better player than Peeler but loses out because he only spent one season with the team.
Number 2: Derek Fisher, by a mile. Fish is the most accomplished role player in Laker history and farts intangibles in his sleep. The only other Lakers to have worn this number were named Kenny Carr, Rory Sparrow and Anthony Miller. I don't have time for those losers, and neither does Fish.
Number 3: Oddly enough, the winner here is Sedale Threatt. Who else is even in the running? There's Devean George, who would've fit right in with last year's crappy bench. And there's Trevor Ariza, whom we all love but who spent less than two full seasons as a Laker. Threatt spent five seasons in L.A., and there were surprisingly productive ones at that. The guy was durable as hell, playing in 81 or 82 games four out of those five years, and was pretty efficient putting the ball in the hole, routinely posting True Shooting Percentages in the 53-55% range. His assist numbers were strong, too. His years as a Laker (1991 through 1996) weren't great ones for the franchise, but his contributions in that stretch helped keep the bottom from totally falling out.
Number 4: Byron Scott is the runaway choice, but he's not the only Laker to have done this number proud. Adrian Dantley averaged 18 points a game in it during his brief, late-‘70s stopover in Lakerdom. Ron Harper won his fourth and fifth rings in it. Even Luke Walton has had some moments. And who could forget Frankie King? (That is, besides me and you and everyone reading this.)
But obviously, Byron towers above them all. He spent 11 seasons as a Laker and was a crucial contributor on three championship teams. It's not likely he'll ever realize his painfully obvious dream of becoming Laker head coach, but it's just as unlikely we'll ever see a purple-and-gold number four as awesome as he was.
Number 5: One cool thing about researching an article like this is that you pick up a lot of interesting historical trivia. For instance, single-digit jersey numbers, I've learned, were very rare in the early days of the NBA. Until 1962, 14 full seasons after the franchise began operation, every single Laker wore a double-digit number. The first to break the mold was Dick Barnett, who wore number five.
Barnett was pretty decent - he was the fourth overall pick in the 1959 draft, made an All-Star Game and eventually won a pair of championship rings with the Knicks - but he spent only three years with the Lakers, as did Columbia University's Jim McMillian, who wore the same number. That leaves both of those fine players behind Robert Horry. Honorary mention goes to Ime Udoka, whom I like because his name is a supervocalism. In other words, it includes each of the five main Latin-alphabet vowels once and only once.
Number 6: Would you believe that Adam Morrison isn't the worst Laker to have worn number six? No, you wouldn't believe it? Good, because he is. But fellow "sixers" Chucky Brown and Jelani McCoy aren't that far ahead of him.
None of these clowns begins to compare with the great (or at least very, very good) Eddie Jones. Eddie performed at a down-ballot All-Star level almost from the moment he arrived as a rookie, combining excellent D with one of the league's most efficient perimeter offensive games. He got shipped out to Charlotte in the Glen Rice trade in 1999, so he just missed the Shaq-Kobe threepeat, and the Heat traded him just before the 2005-06 season, so he missed their championship run as well. Too bad, as he was fun player to watch and, by all accounts, a good guy.
Number 7: Please take a moment to thank your diety of preference for Lamar Odom. Before he came along, the complete list of Lakers who wore number seven read like this: Marty Byrnes, Kenny Carr, Demetrius Calip, Trevor Wilson, Lester Connor, Derek Strong, Sam Jacobson, Isaiah Rider and Brian Cook. Yeesh. I'd probably have picked Cook just for his role in the Ariza deal.
Lamar's almost as easy a choice as....
Number 8: Kobe Bryant, who's not just the greatest number eight in Laker history, but the greatest number eight for any team in any sport, ever. If you need me to explain this, you've come to the wrong internet. (Trivia question for y'all: Three other Lakers have worn the number eight. How many can you name him off the top of your head?)
Number 9: SUN YUE OR GTFO.
All right, fine. It's Nick Van Exel, another mainstay of those mid-‘90s teams. Nick's not a Hall of Famer or anything, but he was an epic second-round steal and a high-volume contributor for five seasons before the Lakers traded him to Denver.
More fun historical arcana: before Nick, the only Laker to have worn number nine was a guy named Jim Chones. Jim played two years for the Lakers until 1981, when they sent him to the Washington Bullets as compensation for the Lakers' having signed one of the Bullets' free agents. The free agent in question? Mitch Kupchak.