If you’re like me and choose your grocery pick up spot based on number preferences (7 if it’s available. 1 and 2? I may as well go inside), look at the time of the day and try to name two players based off of the hour and minute at that time, get new license plates and are immediately disappointed with the numbers you’ve been issued, then you’ll be interested in what I’m about to say. You may not like it, but you’ll be interested.
I want to talk for a second about what the Heat are doing and how I believe it is the future of numbers in sports as we know it.
For those that don’t know, the Miami Heat’s city unis look like ransom notes. The letters are different colors and different fonts as are the numbers. I want to hate them. I really do. In fact, I’ve not been a big fan of what the Heat have done since the inception of the city jerseys but I admit that this one I don’t hate and at the very least find quite intriguing.
I think the Heat are onto something and I think we’re going to look back at their ‘21-’22 look as the genesis of the new era in numbers but not for the reasons you might think.
First, let’s talk numbers in not just basketball but the wide, wide world of sports. How about the New York Yankees? I swear it seems like every time the Yankees get new players they just trade off the same set of numbers. 12, 17, 24, 34, seem to change hands quite a bit with the storied franchise due to the fact that they have so many numbers that are retired. It’s just bizarre that we’ll never see another Yankee wear a single digit number for the rest of our lives.
If you look at basketball, the Celtics don’t have a good selection of numbers to choose from and in my lifetime, will most likely roll out a line up of players with numbers more suited for offensive lineman than lean, mean, basketball playing machines. And of course some of the Cs retired numbers are beyond egregious but that’s not what we’re worried about at the moment, though I did write a post on the matter that you should definitely check out here.
And as far as hockey goes, I don’t care enough to look but I bet the Canadiens have a lot of retired numbers as well.
So what are we going to do about this? Let’s look at basketball for the sake of my argument. What if in 20 years the Celtics have run out of cool numbers? The problem isn’t imminent, I understand, but this is a blog about numbers for people who like to think about numbers so let’s project a little. The scarcity of good number choices will one day be an issue not just for the Celtics but for professional franchises everywhere, and I think the Heat might’ve stumbled upon a solution.
Sticking with our Celtics example, let’s say one day the franchise decides all numbers are back into the rotation. Blasphemous, I know. “How could anyone else wear 33 for the Celtics?” is probably running through your head and I couldn’t agree more. But let’s say they do this with the caveat that the player would have to color code their number. Think about it. Us number nerds like numbers because they look cool, they have a historical precedence and they carry a meaning. So let’s say a young rookie comes to the Celtics in the year 2040 and has no idea who JoJo White is and really wants to wear the number 10. I say let him, but he has to color code it and it has to be a color that is visible from on our TV screen. Now we’ll have a player that is synonymous with a number and a color. Crazy, I know, but I imagine if we number nerds have strong opinions on numbers then we would have opinions on colors as well. Is it that far fetched to think that if we like the way a number looks on a player due to their build, style of play and position that the number would be enhanced if it were, say, gold?
And just think of the marketing doors that it’d be open. The young future Celtic wearing number 10 is also a fan of the color red so he picks his favorite shade and now he’s red10 on whatever social media has taken over the world at the time. His signature shoe would also feature the color of his choice. The nicknames, creativity and branding would be endless and it’d be fun.
Now, if you’ve come this far then you’ve allowed yourself to imagine what I’m talking about it’s possible that some might be okay with it while most would be out. If you’re the latter, let me throw out the example to you of the Dodgers. The classic Dodger Blue is iconic in it’s richness and simplicity and the franchise benefits from being located in a city with two letters that interlock so well. The Dodgers haven’t touched their look and they have no reason to do so. But you know what’s best about their jersey? Their numbers are a striking red. Nothing else on their jersey is red but their numbers and it’s perfect in it’s boldness yet, subtleness. It’s such a perfect shade of red, too.
What if we applied this standalone color method to unretiring jerseys? I think it’d work and open us up to entirely new possibilities. A young Laker wanting to wear Jamal Wilkes 52 (I know, why would he? Just go with it) would have to pick a color to go with it but would know better to pick Celtic green. The franchise could even offer color choices to maintain some uniformity.
And if you’re worried about potential number/color sins, unspoken rules would most certainly come up and enforce themselves. For example, we’ve already forgotten who Jamal Wilkes and JoJo White are but 33 and 6 for the Celtics and 32 and 33 for the Lakers will still be seen as untouchable to future generations. And aint nobody touching 8/24 for the Lakers. But let’s be real. If you’re under the age of 50 and not from Boston you have no idea who JoJo White is. 10 for the Celtics ain’t that sacred and that’s just a fact. Sorry JoJo.
I don’t think the Heat set out to change the course of humanity but I think they did on accident. The current lack of uniformity in their city unis is a bit extreme but the idea is in there somewhere and I think it’s going to be the future of number choice for my kids and my kids’ kids. And if not, fine, they’re just numbers anyway. No big deal.