Some players throughout NBA (and sports history), are synonymous with the jersey # they wore during their careers. Such as when you see/hear the #23, you may think of Michael Jordan. He is, to some, the best player to ever wear that jersey #. But, there could be other jersey #’s that you don’t always think of a certain player, when you hear/see that certain number.
In this article, I will be giving my personal choice of the best players to ever wear the #’s 00-5, throughout NBA history. Part 2, which will come soon, will have #’s 6-10. Some might be no-brainers (like Jordan), while other ones might be close calls. My only criteria for this list, is that the player had to have worn the # for 3+ seasons, at least.
#00- Robert Parish (C, GSW/BOS/CHA/CHI, 1977-1997)
“The Chief”, as Parish was frequently called, wore #00 for his whole career. Even when he switched teams. He is most known for being a part of the Celtics in the 1980’s. Along with Larry Bird, and Kevin McHale (among others), Parish helped the C’s to 3 NBA titles in that decade (’81,’84,’86). To add to the 3 championships, throughout his Hall of Fame career, he also garnered 9 All-Star nods, and 2 All-NBA nods.
Parish was also an “Iron Man” of sorts. Not to the length of Cal Ripken Jr., in the MLB exactly. But besides his age 43 season (as expected), the 7-footer never missed more than 10 games in a regular season. That longevity and health helped him accrue a career stat-line that looked like this: 14.5 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 1.5 BPG and a 53% FG.
While other really good/great players have worn #00. None that met my criteria (3+ seasons wearing #), had as storied/as good of a career as Parish did.
#0- Russell Westbrook (PG, OKC/HOU/WAS/LAL, 2009-Present)
The last player to be drafted as a Seattle SuperSonic, Westbrook has too many accolades, in his 15 year career (so far), to count on both hands. They include: 9x All-Star, 2x Scoring Champ, 3x AST Champ, and 1x MVP (16-17). Not to mention, the former UCLA Bruin, holds the record for most Triple-Doubles in a career (196 and counting). To put that record into another perspective, Wilt Chamberlain is in 6th on the All-Time Triple Doubles list with 78. Over 100 Triple-Doubles behind Westbrook. With how much Chamberlain dominated the game in his era, you would think he’d be closer to the top.
Those accolades are hard for anyone to beat, not just the players that have worn #0 throughout league history. The #0 seems to be full of solid role/bench players, so there isn’t much competition at this number. Besides the likes of Damian Lillard, and Westbrook’s former UCLA teammate Kevin Love. Other than those two, the discrepancy is pretty big. But that shouldn’t diminish what Westbrook has done in his surefire Hall of Fame career.
#1- Chauncey Billups (PG, 7 Teams, 1997-2014)
Now the Portland Trail Blazers Head Coach, was one of the best PG’s of the 2000’s. This one was the closest out of the three jersey # choices I’ve made yet. Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, was a super-close second. I ultimately went with “Mr. Big Shot”, due to the facts that 1) Billups has an NBA title, and 2) he has just a couple more individual accolades than Hardaway, and 3) Higher Win-Share for Billups.
I don’t usually use advanced stats, like win-shares, when comparing players. But this matchup was so close that I had to resort to doing it. I felt it made the most sense/was the most fair way to decide. And if we want to go even further, i’m a big FT% guy. Billups career FT% was 89.4% (5th All-Time), whereas Hardaway’s was 77.4% (lower than 250th All-Time).
#2- Kawhi Leonard (SF, SAS/TOR/LAC, 2011-Present)
My choice for jersey #2, is the 2nd player on this list still playing (so far), and the 2nd player that had tough competition to be on this list. “The Klaw”, as he’s aptly named for his big hands, had some solid competition from Kyrie Irving, and Derek Fisher. While Billups/Hardaway was a harder decision for me to make, Leonard/Irving/Fisher wasn’t easy by any means.
This one pretty much came down to accolades, and I see Kawhi as more of an impact player than Kyrie or Derek Fisher. If it weren’t for the 2x DPOY, I doubt the Raptors win the Finals in 2019. While Kyrie was a very important part of the Cavaliers 2016 Finals win, Lebron was a big help too.
You don’t get a nickname like “The Answer” without being a step above the competition in your sport. Which is exactly what Iverson was. One of the most unapologetic players in league history, Iverson flaunted his stuff/talent and didn’t care how it came off to anyone. We ain’t talking about practice this time. If you don’t get that, you’re too young (Here’s the video if you don’t get it). We are talking about his in-game stuff.
Seemingly, the only thing Iverson doesn’t have in his portfolio is an NBA title. All-Star (11x), Scoring Champ (4x), STL Champ (3x), and MVP (1x) are all in his portfolio. He helped the 76ers get as close as you can without winning in 2001. But never got past the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals after that.
It wasn’t only his play that transcended the game of basketball, it was his style too. His pre and post-game outfits were the talk of the town when his play wasn’t. That goes to show how influential/loved he was as a player.
#4- Chris Bosh (PF/C, TOR/MIA, 2003-2017)
If i’m being honest, I didn’t expect this many close decisions. At least not this early in the list. Jersey #4 was the third close matchup/decision i’ve had already. This time it was the ultimate decision, Chris Bosh, against Pistons legend Joe Dumars. It wasn’t the nicknames that set Bosh aside (“Boshstrich” vs. Dumars “Big D”).
It was the 11 All-Star selections, the 20.5 PER and 106 Win-Shares. Again, I had to go into advanced stats to make the decision. Not that advanced stats aren’t important exactly, I just am not the biggest fan of using them in arguments/comparisons. As I stated before, in the Billups/Hardaway decision.
While I wasn’t a huge fan of Bosh joining the “Superteam” in Miami, with Lebron and Wade. I understood the decision and it luckily worked out for him. He is rightfully so a 2x NBA Champ and Hall of Famer.
#5- Jason Kidd (PG, NJN/DAL/PHO/NYK, 1994-2013)
Rounding out part 1 of my list, Jason Kidd. J-Kidd had a bit of competition while I was making this decision. Carlos Boozer, Robert Horry, and Kevin Garnett mainly. But Kidd outshines Boozer and Horry, stat and accolade wise. As for Garnett, he is more remembered for the #21 than he is #5. At least to me he is.
When I think of best PG of the past 25 years, there are three names that instantly come to mind. Steve Nash, Allen Iverson, and Jason Kidd. Point Guard’s need to be able to find their teammates for the open/best shot. Kidd being a 5x AST Champ, shows that he could do just that, and do it very well. The former #2 overall pick (1994), wasn’t your score-first type of PG. Averaging just over 12 PPG for his career, but he made up for it with the assists (as mentioned) and on the defensive side of the ball. He has 9 All-Defensive Team nods to show for it.
That brings us to the end of part 1 of my list. Part 2 will be out soon for jersey #’s 6-10. Be on the lookout for it.