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 21 days until the season opener on Oct. 22. So, who wore No. 21 best?
Butch Beard, a 1972 All-Star, 1975 champion and Wes Unseld’s college roommate.
Ron Bonham, a two-time champion, no relation to John.
Quinn Buckner, who wore No. 21 for his four All-Defensive selections but not his 1984 championship.
Mack Calvin, who donned No. 21 for two of his five ABA All-Star campaigns.
Archie Clark, a.k.a. Shake and Bake, a two-time All-Star and “the father of the crossover.”
Michael Cooper, the 1987 Defensive Player of the Year, a five-time champion and eight-time All-Defensive selection, who wore No. 21 throughout his 12-year career on Magic Johnson’s Los Angeles Lakers.
Larry Costello, who wore No. 21 for four of his six All-Star seasons and his 1967 title campaign with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Vlade Divac, a Hall of Famer and Team Yugoslavia legend, wore No. 21 during his six-year run with the Sacramento Kings, including his only All-Star campaign and a would-be championship robbery. His jersey is retired in Sacramento, where he now serves as general manager.
Sleepy Floyd, who wore No. 21 for four different teams, including his 1987 All-Star campaign with the Golden State Warriors.
World B. Free, a 1980 All-Star with a rainbow jumper, receding hairline and tremendous name.
Cheese Johnson, the greatest name in the history of the NBA.
Slick Leonard, a Hall of Fame coach for the ABA’s Indiana Pacers, wore No. 21 for seven serviceable NBA seasons.
Lawrence “Poetry In” Moten, whose high socks I wore religiously growing up.
Red Robbins, the three-time All-Star, not the restaurant.
Alvin Robertson, the first-ever Most Improved Player, 1986 Defensive Player of the Year and a four-time All-Star, wore No. 21 for the San Antonio Spurs before a guy we just might get to on this list.
Truck Robinson, a two-time All-Star with a strong nickname to match his tough game.
Gene Shue, a five-time All-Star and spin-move pioneer.
Walt Szczerbiak, Wally’s dad.
Claude Terry, a 1976 All-Star who looked the part.
Sidney Wicks, the 1972 Rookie of the Year and a four-time All-Star who has a decent Hall of Fame case.
Joe Caldwell, a two-time ABA All-Star and two-time NBA All-Star who did not wear No. 21 for any of those seasons.
Dwight Howard, the still-active eight-time All-Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year, wore No. 21 for nine games with the Washington Wizards last year. We shall see if he lasts longer wearing No. 39 with the Lakers this season.
Steve “Snapper” Jones, a three-time ABA All-Star, only wore No. 21 for portions of two seasons with the Carolina Cougars.
Fat Lever, a two-time All-Star and 1988 All-Defensive selection, turned to No. 21 for a late-career run with the Dallas Mavericks.
Bob Love, a three-time All-Star and three-time All-Defensive selection, sported No. 21 for a couple seasons with the Cincinnati Royals before ascending to stardom on the Chicago Bulls, who retired his No. 10 jersey.
Moses Malone, who changed numbers 10 times in a Hall of Fame career, wore No. 21 with the Houston Rockets after an early season trade from the Buffalo Braves, made his first NBA All-Star roster spot, and then changed to No. 24 the following season.
Bob McAdoo, a Hall of Famer, tried No. 21 for a single season with the New Jersey Nets, following a run that saw 1973 Rookie of the Year honors, the 1975 MVP award, three scoring titles and five All-Star bids. Following a trade from the Nets to the Lakers, he switched back to No. 11 and won a pair of championships in Los Angeles. Seems like No. 21 was not so good for him.
Joel Embiid, an MVP candidate entering the 2019-20 campaign, is easily the best active No. 21, ahead of guys like Patrick Beverley, Hassan Whiteside and Thaddeus Young. He has the potential to be among the greatest to ever wear the number.
Dave Bing, a Hall of Famer, wore No. 21 for all but his final NBA season. In that jersey, which has been retired by the Detroit Pistons, he made seven All-Star appearances, captured 1967 Rookie of the Year honors and won the 1968 scoring title.
Kevin Garnett, soon bound for the Hall of Fame, wore No. 21 for the entirety of his Minnesota Timberwolves, making 10 of his 15 All-Star appearances and winning the 2004 MVP award in that jersey. Had he been able to stick with the number on the Boston Celtics, with whom he won a championship and Defensive Player of the Year wearing No. 5 in 2008, a conversation about the greatest No. 21 might be more difficult, even if we would land on the same answer.
Bill Sharman, a Hall of Famer who is the reason No. 21 was not available for Garnett in Boston, made all of eight of his All-Star appearances in the jersey, winning four championships as Bob Cousy’s backcourt mate on Bill Russell’s Celtics.
Dominique Wilkins, a.k.a. The Human Highlight Film, wore No. 21 for the entirety of a wildly underrated 15-year career, save for a season with the Celtics, when Sharman’s retired number forced him to don No. 12. In his No. 21, now retired in his honor by the Atlanta Hawks, Wilkins made nine All-Star appearances, won two slam dunk contests and took home the 1986 scoring title.
The Jersey Champion
Tim Duncan, a.k.a. The Big Fundamental, a soon-to-be Hall of Famer, top-10 all-time basketball player and the greatest hider in the history of paintball, sported No. 21 throughout his 19-year career — a legendary run with the Spurs that included 15 All-Star appearances, 15 All-Defensive selections, five championships, three Finals MVPs, two regular-season MVPs, the 1998 Rookie of the Year award and a partridge in a pear tree.
Take a bow, Timmy.
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