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2019 NBA Finals - Toronto Raptors v Golden State Warriors

What’s in a jersey? The stories behind the Raptors’ numbers

In sports, the number a player picks often has a lot of sentimental value — let’s see why they Raptors picked their numbers!

Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

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Think of any player in a Toronto Raptors jersey and certain numbers pop immediately into your head:

15

10

2

Follow the stories of Vince Carter, DeMar DeRozan, and Kawhi Leonard and you get a picture of the Raptors’ story in the NBA. The rise and fall of a franchise icon. The superstar who pushed Toronto like a modern-day Sisyphus. The soft-spoken saviour who carried the team to championship glory!

But what about the numbers themselves? Is there a story behind the numbers they wore? The current crop of players to proudly wear “Raptors” on the front of their jerseys, pride themselves more on the number below. Let’s take a look at some of those stories.

Dom Toretto would be proud: Players who honour family

The most recognizable number is undeniably the ‘43’ that Pascal Siakam sports. His number represents what he values most — the 4 men (his father and three brothers) and 3 women (his mother and two sisters) that make up his family.

Sticking with the theme of family, Gary Trent Jr. followed his father’s footsteps all the way to the Raptors locker room. Like his father once wore two decades years prior, GTJ also proudly wears ‘33’.

Precious Achiuwa also chose his number because of his family. He has 5 siblings — 3 brothers (God’sgift, God’swill, and Promise) and 2 sisters (Grace & Peace). “In high school and college, I couldn’t wear the number eight. I come from a big family of eight people. In high school, the only available number was five and I have five siblings, so I stuck with that. All my friends call me “five”, too. It’s just a representation of my siblings.”

Number switches and favourites:

Gradey Dick will be switching from the ‘4’ he wore in Kansas to the ‘1’ he wore throughout his high school career. “I’ll be No. 1,” Dick said. “I wore it all in high school. And I had to switch at four because they didn’t have one at KU. So I finally get to go back to it.”

Dennis Schroder chose 17 because it’s his favourite number. Coincidentally, or maybe not, Schroder was selected with the 17th pick in the 2013 draft by the Atlanta Hawks.

Christian Koloko chose his number after his idol. “He was skinny like me, body type. For his size, he played like a guard at 6’11”, 7′. So it was pretty impressive.” Can you guess who Koloko’s idol was? I could probably change “was” to “is” since Kevin Durant is still in the league.

Honouring and Taking a Stand: These numbers have a bigger purpose

My personal favourite is the reasoning behind Thad Young’s ‘21’. Throughout his high school and college career, Young wore ‘33’. However, when he was drafted by the Sixers, Willie Green already had that number. Thad decided to do what few have done in his position — left it for the fans to decide!

Young selected four numbers and had Sixers fans vote for his jersey number. When ‘21’ won the vote, he made it a point to always try to wear that number whenever he switched teams. His reasoning is as simple as it is powerful: if there were no fans, he wouldn’t have a job.

“The league wouldn’t be what it is today without the fans and the players, and the owners and everybody who puts the time into it. But I thought it was a great thing to do for the support that I was getting from my fans and the support that I was getting from the Sixers fans, to let them be able to pick my jersey number and then go with that one for most of my career.”

If you clicked on the link above, you’d also notice Otto Porter’s story behind his jersey number. In the Athletic article, he says ‘22’ has always been his favourite number and that many greats have worn it (citing Blazers great, and Hall-of-Famer, Clyde Drexler). However, a Washington Post story begs to differ, stating Porter’s number choice was in honour of his mother, Elnora Porter, who wore ‘22’ when she helped her school win the 1984 state championship.

If you’re wondering why I keep referencing ‘22’ and not the ‘32’ Porter actually wears for the Raptors, a) thank you for paying attention and b) let’s get to that now.

Otto managed to keep the number ‘22’ for the first 8 seasons of his career, which included stops in Washington, Chicago, and Orlando. When Golden State signed him in the summer of 2021, the Warriors already had someone occupying ‘22’ — none other than Andrew Wiggins. He could have honoured his father and wear Otto Porter Sr.’s ‘35’. (After being drafted by the Wizards, he expressed interest in sporting his father’s number, “It means a lot. He’s the person that taught me this game, and I will honour him with his number.” Otto later realized Trevor Booker already had the number, thus, landing on his mother’s ‘22’.) While ‘35’ was available, Porter Jr. opted for ‘32’, a number he continued wearing when Toronto picked him up (Malachi Flynn currently wears ‘22’).

There isn’t much to Flynn’s story, as far as my research went. He wore ‘22’ in college and currently wears the same number. However, when Toronto drafted him, Flynn had to choose a different number since Raptors legend, Patrick McCaw, already had ‘22’. Malachi’s favourite player growing up was Kobe Bryant, so that could be the reason why he chose ‘8’. Flynn would later switch to ‘22’ after McCaw was waived.

The Raptors have 3 ‘juniors’ on the team. Gary Trent Jr. uses his father’s number. Otto Porter Jr. was using his mother’s number. So, why doesn’t Ron Harper Jr. use his father’s number? This may not be the story of why he chose ‘8’, but it does illustrate why he did not want ‘4’. With statements like, “I take pride in a name, but it can definitely be a burden,” or “my story would be about overcoming a name, overcoming a situation and being my own person,” it’s no wonder RHJ distanced himself from his father’s number.

The Mystery: Just vibing

Let’s end this off with the only two-time Raptor on the roster. Jakob Poeltl wore ‘42’ in college and in his first two seasons with the Raptors. I’m not sure if you heard, but Poeltl was traded to the Spurs (details of the rest of the package are hazy). Davis Bertans already wore ‘42’ so Jakob switched over to ‘25’. When Toronto re-acquired Poeltl, his old ‘42’ was right there for the taking. Instead, Jakob opted for ‘19’, for reasons unknown. “I changed it up because I felt like it was a new chapter here,” he said. “The 42 was my first two years here and then I wanted to change it up. 19? That’s personal, I’m not going to tell you that.” The conspiracy theory is that it symbolizes the 2019 championship that Toronto won without him — a title run that couldn’t have happened if he wasn’t part of the trade package for Kawhi Leonard.

Notice any names missing? It’s because my research couldn’t find the reason for their respective jersey numbers. But don’t let that stop you from pointing out my lack of research. Call me out! Let me know in the comments section why O.G. Anunoby wears ‘3’ or why Scottie Barnes dons my favourite number.

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