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Which athletes wore their numbers best?


Pele is just one famous soccer player to have worn the number 10. Others are Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi and World Cup hero Diego Maradona. ( Rubenstein )

One of the biggest moments of any kid’s sports season is when he gets his uniform. The first question is often: What’s my number?

When I coached, I handed out the jerseys and the kids traded until they got their “favorite” number. My daughter, Kerry, for example, always wanted No. 17 because she was born on January 17.

I have the perfect book for any kid who has a favorite sports number: “Any Given Number: Who Wore It Best, From 00 to 99.”

The editors of Sports Illustrated decided which athletes were the best to wear a particular uniform number. The fun comes from the lists of great players and all the arguments — contained in a section for each number labeled “The Debate” — about the players.

Some players own a number: Babe Ruth was No. 3; Michael Jordan, 23; and Wayne Gretsky, 99.

But other numbers are competitive. Take No. 4. Who’s the best to wear that number? Boston Bruins hockey great Bobby Orr? He scored more than 100 points in six consecutive seasons . . . as a defenseman! Or was it quarterback Bret Favre, who threw for a record 71,838 yards and 508 touchdowns?

Older sports fans might argue that the best No. 4 was Lou Gehrig. The New York Yankees great belted 493 home runs during a career that sent him to the Hall of Fame.

N0. 10 is the number for soccer goal scorers. Fans of the beautiful game will have to decide whether the legendary Pele, Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi or World Cup hero Diego Maradona was the best to wear that number.

No. 32 may be the hardest number of all. Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown is often called the greatest football player ever. Brown led the National Football League in rushing yards in eight of the nine seasons he played.

But basketball star Earvin “Magic” Johnson was a three-time Most Valuable Player and led the Los Angeles Lakers (along with No. 33 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) to five National Basketball Association championships in the 1980s.

Then there’s Sandy Koufax. The Dodgers’ left-handed pitcher led the National League in earned run average (ERA) five years in a row.

Brown, Johnson and Koufax all wore No. 32. So who’s the best?

The book is not just arguments. It also contains some stories behind the numbers. Pittsburgh Penguins center Sydney Crosby chose to wear 87 because his birthday is August 7, 1987, or 8/7/87.

Baseball Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson wore six numbers — 14, 22, 24, 25, 35 and 39 — during his 25-year career.

Maybe Henderson understood that a number is not that important. One night, Michael Jordan’s regular shirt was stolen before the game. Jordan wore No. 12 that night, and what happened? He scored 49 points.

So find the book, sit down with your mom or dad or some older sports fan and start talking sports — and numbers.

Bowen writes the sports opinion column for KidsPost. He is the author of 19 sports books for kids. Book No. 20 — “Double Reverse” — will be published in August.

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