We are inside of two months 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 these final 55 days by arguing over who wore each jersey number best until we reach No. 00.
There are currently 39 days until the season opener on Oct. 22. So, who wore No. 39 best?
Jerami Grant wore No. 39 for the Philadelphia 76ers, and the franchise openly tanked his two-plus seasons with the franchise. Grant’s trial by fire helped the Sixers land Ben Simmons, so his No. 39 days were not for nothing. The son, nephew and brother to NBA players, Grant blossomed into a versatile 3-and-D swingman wearing No. 9 for the Oklahoma City Thunder last season, and his trade to the Denver Nuggets for a protected first-round pick was one of this summer’s more underrated moves. Here’s hoping he picks up No. 39 again in Denver.
Greg Ostertag, a 7-foot-2, 280-pound Kansas product, wore No. 00 for much of his 11-year NBA career, save for a couple seasons squarely in the middle, when he switched to No. 39 so Olden Polynice could wear zero for the Utah Jazz from 1999-2001. Despite the gesture, Jazz veterans were apparently none too nice to Ostertag at that time. “Nobody likes anything he does,” Jerry Sloan told Sports Illustrated in November 1999, “and that’s not fair.” He took No. 00 back when Polynice left, and I’m just glad he has since found happiness as a cattle farmer and Twitter legend.
Željko Rebrača, a EuroLeague star with a name I can’t pretend to pronounce, wore No. 39 for two-plus years with the Detroit Pistons in the early aughts. He may have a claim to the 39 throne had he won a title with the 2004 Pistons, but he was traded midway through that season — in the deal that landed Rasheed Wallace, which when it comes down to it is as valuable an NBA contribution as a No. 39 has made.
Tom Tolbert, who played seven NBA seasons, only wore No. 39 for one of them — a 10-game stint with the Charlotte Hornets before retiring in 1995 at age 29. He went on to a broadcasting career, calling the 2003 NBA Finals as an analyst before finding his niche on talk radio in the Bay Area, where he is best known as a No. 3.
The Jersey Champion
Caldwell Jones wore No. 3 with the San Diego Conquistadors when he was named a 1975 ABA All-Star and No. 11 with the Philadelphia 76ers when he earned a pair of All-Defensive selections en route to three NBA Finals appearances (all losses). His greatest contribution in 17 professional seasons, though, may have come wearing No. 39 during his lone season in Chicago. The Bulls dealt for Jones specifically to mentor a rookie by the name of Michael Jordan. They were coming off a couple 20-win seasons and needed a franchise reset. Jones served as the starting center, save for a two-month absence for a fractured hand, and the Bulls reached the playoffs for the first time in four seasons, setting Jordan on his path.
One of four brothers to play in the NBA, Jones also counted Ralph Sampson and David Robinson among his mentees — wearing Nos. 11 and 27 with the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs, respectively. While he only wore 39 for a single season, given the dearth of options here, there is no better choice than Jones — a beloved teammate The New York Times called an “artful center” in his obituary.
Praise be to Pops.
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