The 2018 NBA Finals are underway and Los Angeles Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma is in China to help the country celebrate all the action and support youth developmental initiatives.
A rising star on one of the most popular teams in China, Kuzma has the opportunity to follow in Kobe Bryant’s footsteps, who led the league in jersey sales in China for over a decade. However, Kuzma is already at a slight disadvantage because unlike Bryant, Kuzma only has the one jersey and corresponding jersey number. Bryant had two jersey numbers with the Lakers and they’re both hanging from the rafters at STAPLES Center.
On Sunday, Kuzma hosted an NBA Cares basketball clinic for migrant school students in honor of International Children’s Day at the Jr. NBA Beijing High School League Finals and while he was there, the 22-year-old All-Rookie First Teamer talked a little bit about the origin of his now famous jersey number.
“I wore 35 in college, but when I got into the NBA, I didn’t want to use the same number as Kevin Durant,” Kuzma told Li Yan of China Daily. “So I chose zero - start from zero.”
Evidently, Kuzma didn’t mind having the same number as Durant’s former teammate Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder or Damian Lillard of the Portland Trailblazers. He also didn’t mind taking the number from ex-Laker Nick Young, who said that he knew his time in Los Angeles was over when the Lakers gave away his number.
For what it’s worth, Kuzma has done the number zero justice since taking over. Of the 26 players to wear the number zero this past season, Kuzma finished No. 5 in points per game ahead of players such as Andre Drummond, Jayson Tatum and Jeff Teague, per basketball-reference.com. Kevin Love, DeMarcus Cousins and the aforementioned Lillard and Westbrook were the only players that finished ahead of Kuzma.
Are jersey numbers arbitrary? Sure, but after a while the number on the back of a player’s jersey becomes synonymous with the player, like Michael Jordan’s 23 or Kobe Bryant’s 8 and 24.
If Kuzma can build on his impressive rookie season with the Lakers, his jersey number might mean something one day too.