Eight Crimes

by February 13, 2008

by Russ Bengtson

In the course of NBA history, many uniform numbers have been retired. The Boston Celtics alone have retired so many that there is real danger of them having to switch to triple digits or Roman numerals before long. Yet, in the entire storied history of the L, not a single franchise has retired the number 8.

It’s strange, really. Eight doesn’t have the reputation of being an unlucky number, like 13 (which, by the way, has been retired by the Golden State Warriors, the Los Angeles Lakers, the New Orleans Hornets, the Philadelphia 76ers, the Portland Trail Blazers and the San Antonio Spurs—admittedly in half of those cases for Wilt Chamberlain). Yet eight has long been a number of NBA journeymen and never-will-bes. Kobe Bryant, perhaps the best to ever wear ocho, chose it not because of a childhood hero (regardless of those Mike D’Antoni stories), but because it was the sum of the digits of his first adidas ABCD Camp number—143. Eight has a rich history in other sports. It’s been worn by baseball Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Carl Yastrzemski and Cal Ripken as well as Super Bowl champion quarterback Steve Young. And a quick check of Wikipedia reveals only reasons TO wear eight:

In tarot, card No. 8 is “Strength

Eight is considered a lucky number in Asian culture because it sounds like the word “prosper” or “wealth”

“#8” is the stagename of Slipknot vocalist Corey Taylor

The Golden Age of NBA Eights was the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, when All-Star games featured Bryant, Antoine Walker, Steve Smith and Latrell Sprewell. Now Kobe and Antoine both wear 24, Smitty is retired, and Spree is well on his way to donning No. 111097840. But it seems that eight has finally been accepted by the masses. A full baker’s dozen guys wear it today, including up-and-coming stars Deron Williams, Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis.

I suppose it’s just coincidence that eight has such an undistinguished NBA history. After all, there are plenty of other numbers that have yet to be retired by any NBA teams—although those are mostly little-used ones like 26 and 73 and 3,702. But eight is the only single-digit number that has yet to be hung from any team’s rafters. That should change in a decade or so, after Kobe Bryant retires and his jersey joins those of Magic and Kareem, West and Baylor, Chamberlain and O’Neal.

About time.