I can’t explain why, but I think about jersey numbers a lot. More like a lot a lot. Think of what you would consider “a lot,” and then double that, and that’s how much I think about jersey numbers. Does this sometimes extend to counting Dallas Mavericks jersey numbers instead of sheep when I have trouble falling asleep. Maybe. Maybe mind your own business.
Look, I know. I know. And, like I said, I can’t explain it. It’s just how my dumb mind works. I have a surplus of useless information in there and I probably need to do a hard reboot at some point, get it all cleaned up, go back to factory settings. I’m sure I’d be smarter or at least I’d work more quickly.
ANYWAY, this morning I started thinking about all the different players who have played for the Mavs, on the eve of their first game of the 2019-20 season. After a couple of cups of coffee, I decided that, in lieu of a formal preview — and there is some preview business in here — I would instead officially determine who was the best player to wear each number for the team in its almost 40-year history. Let’s get it.
0: Shawn Marion
He was basically the only player to wear this digit — Jameel (?) Warney (?) had it for three games in 2017-18, and I think there might have been another player briefly — but Marion (aka The Matrix aka Matrix aka ‘Trix) would be an easy choice at this spot regardless. He didn’t match the highs he reached with the Phoenix Suns, but his five seasons here (including the championship run in 2011) served as a satisfying last chapter to his career.
00: Eric Montross
My hands are tied, as Montross is the only Maverick ever issued this particular jersey. In fact, there aren’t a ton of 00s in NBA history (just 36), which is strange to me, because it is such a fantastic-looking number. Personally, I find it so much more visually appealing than 0. Not sure why the latter is much more popular now, but I’d like to see this rectified. Montross looked and played like if Frankenstein made his monster in Indiana.
1: Dennis Smith Jr.
Ah, what could have been. I still love DSJ and still believe he will be a very good NBA player, and not just a guy good for a few SportsCenter Top 10 plays each season. I understand and agree (mostly) with trading him for Kristaps Porzingis, whose timeline — if he’s really healthy and not just newly swole — is more in sync with Luka Doncic’s. But it still hurt to get rid of Smith, who was the kind of dynamic player the Mavs have rarely had on their roster.
2: Jason Kidd
He wore No. 5 during his initial, abbreviated run with the “Three Js”-era Mavericks, and he (co-)won a Rookie of the Year award in that jersey. But being on the 2011 championship squad gives the edge to No. 2.
3: Rodrigue Beaubois
I will be forever in the tank for Roddy Buckets.
4: Michael Finley
I wish that he did not have to leave to win a championship (and in San Antonio, of all places), but he’s back with the organization now, as vice president of basketball operations. He was the closest thing the Mavs have had to Michael Jordan, which makes sense, since Finley grew up in Chicago and was later hand-picked by His Airness himself to be one of the first players on Team Jordan, to wear his shoes and represent the Jumpman logo. Mostly, that was great, but it also meant that he killed a lot of quarter- and half-ending possessions with some “you reach, I teach” cosplay. All forgiven now!
5: Josh Howard
I would hear an argument for J.J. Barea, since if the Mavs were ever to retire No. 5, it would probably be for him. But I cannot and will not deny the excitement of Howard’s time in Dallas, especially his first few seasons, which culminated in an appearance in the 2007 All-Star Game.
6: Tyson Chandler
I would 100-percent be fine with the Mavs retiring No. 6 for Tyson Chandler, even though he only played here two seasons. (Unfortunately, after both, the organization sort of did him dirty.) Maybe in a few years Porzingis can take this away from him. But not yet.
7: Dwight Powell
My guy was made to catch lobs.
8: José Calderon
- Calderon was underrated.
- There is a zero-percent chance I’m picking Antoine Walker.
9: Jae Crowder
- Crowder was just about to become something before he was traded.
- There is a zero-percent chance I’m picking Rajon Rondo.
10: Darrell Armstrong
Armstrong was more or less a player coach before he became a full-on assistant coach. You could make a case for Tim Hardaway here, but I don’t think that many people remembered he played in Dallas until his son was traded to the Mavericks last season.
11: Monta Ellis
Monta’s time in Dallas was short but so much better than anyone could have expected. His game doesn’t fully mesh with the modern NBA but I will believe he has a place in it until he is walking with a cane. He’s just one of those guys. Also, this didn’t happen in Dallas but:
12: Derek Harper
His number is in the rafters, as it should be. Also, when I was a kid, I once saw him at the Galleria and he was wearing black leather shorts and a matching sleeveless shirt. Legend.
13: Steve Nash
Would you prefer Doug Christie? Speaking of, it kills me that they gave one of the team’s worst nemeses Nash’s number, not long after they basically traded him for Erick “Pan Hands” Dampier. The audacity.
14: Eduardo Najera
15: Brad Davis
The only Maverick to wear this number and a franchise icon.
16: Peja Stojakovic
Shot 6-6 from three in the Mavs’ series-clinching demolishing of the Lakers in 2011.
17: Antoine Rigadeau
An experiment that didn’t work. But at least it was a French experiment.
18: Hot Rod Williams
Late, mostly great.
19: Tony Campbell
The 1990s Mavs were sort of like a black hole.
20: Dominique Jones
The honest answer is probably Devin Harris, who wore this number when he came back the second (or third?) time because Brandan Wright was wearing No. 34, but as much as I love Devin, I don’t think I can put him on this list twice. So it goes to Jones because he was on the 2011 championship team and his nickname is DoJo.
21: George McCloud
To me, more than any of the “Three Js,” McCloud is the avatar of the no-hope ’90s Mavs, when Dick Motta came back to coach and, when he completely gave up, hit upon what is now the current strategy of almost every NBA team: shoot as many three-pointers as you can. That fit perfectly with McCloud’s game.
22: Rolando Blackman
One of my favorite Mavs ever and the reason why I wore No. 22 on my high school squad. He had such a smooth jumper. He was responsible for one of the franchise’s early high points: the “Confidence, baby, confidence” free throw in the 1987 All-Star Game. Yes, I know — a free throw and not even in an actual Mavs game. We didn’t have much back then.
23: Cedric Ceballos
Did you know: Dirk Nowitzki had a Cedric Ceballos Mavs jersey before he signed with the team?
24: Mark Aguirre
They won’t ever retire this for him, but they should. Also:
25: Vince Carter
26: Ray Spalding
He played one minute in one game last year, but it still counts.
27: Zaza Pachulia
My dream was to interview Zaza at the Hotel Zaza, and it came within a few hours of actually happening. Alas. Pachulia was a backup plan (or more like a backup to a backup to a backup plan) but the Georgian center was on a very fun 2015-16 team that was better than it had any right to be.
28: D.J. Mbenga
Ian Mahinmi also wore this and he hit a clutch shot in the 2011 Finals. But does he have a black belt in judo and did he open a crepe restaurant in Dallas. No and no, so the tie goes to Mbenga.
29: no one
Feels unlikely this will ever be claimed.
30: Seth Curry
Glad he’s back on the team.
31: Jason Terry
I can’t tell you how tough this one was. Everyone, by now, should know how much I love Nick Van Exel, now back with the franchise as a scout. I have a Mavs No. 31 shirsey, and it’s for Van Exel, not Terry. Van Exel is one of my favorite NBA players ever, not just one of my favorite Mavs. He is the shifty, long-bombing lefty guard I have always wanted to be.
But I cannot ignore how important Terry was to the Mavericks. The second-best (or at worst third-best, and, every once in a while when he was hot, the best) player on a championship team and two others that might have been. Other than Dirk, he might have hit more shots in high-leverage situations than any other player in the team’s history.
I don’t know why I made a rule that there can be no ties.
32: Jamal Mashburn
It is still a little strange to me that not one of the “Three J’s” stayed on the team after it went sideways. I understand getting rid of one, or even two, but all three?
33: Antawn Jamison
I would love to have a do-over where the Mavs traded Van Exel for Jamison and then didn’t trade for Antoine Walker, too. I would love to see what happened then, with Jamison starting alongside Dirk, Nash, and Finley instead of coming off the bench (where he was great). Also, in this scenario, the team would not start the season in the Hefty bag unis.
34: Devin Harris
There have been better players on the Mavericks but there has never been anyone more on the Mavericks than Harris, who has had three separate stints with the team, and he’s not retired yet.
35: Brian Cardinal
In a perfect world, Cardinal (aka The Custodian) would have a game-worn Hefty bag No. 35 jersey.
36: no one
37: Kostas Antetokounmpo
Giannis’ brother played a couple of games in this jersey last season before being waived in the summer.
38 & 39: no one
40: James Donaldson
Harrison Barnes was very good here, but I doubt I’ll remember anything about his time in Dallas the way I’ll remember the way Donaldson dunked with his knees up and feet back.
41: Dirk Nowitzki
42: Roy Tarpley
The current holder of this number, Maxi Kleber, is a bit like a German, non-alcoholic version of Tarpley — maybe not as good of a rebounder, but with the kind of all-court game on both sides of the ball that is rare for someone 6-foot-11. Tarpley was made for the positionless modern game, with a jumper he could have turned into an accurate three-point shot and the ability to guard pretty much any position. Also, if he came around now, he might have had a better chance at staying sober. There is more infrastructure in place for a guy like him, who struggled his entire too-short life with addiction.
43: Terry Davis
The undersized center was a rebounding machine and one of the only success stories of the 1990s Mavs.
44: Sam Perkins
The only thing Perkins ever did wrong with the Mavs was being taken one pick after his UNC teammate Michael Jordan in the 1984 draft.
45: A.C. Green
Broke the NBA record for consecutive games played while in Dallas.
46–49: no one
50: Salah Mejri
This is another number I think people should wear more. I will say this about Salah during his recently ended tenure with the Mavs: you never forgot he was on the floor. He was always doing something.
51: Boban Marjanovic
As soon as the big man plays one second, he will be the best (and only) player to wear this number for the Mavs. And I really think he is an upgrade over Mejri in the deep-bench backup center role. Only slightly, maybe, but definitely. He also ups the “appeared in a film in the John Wick franchise” number from 0 to 1.
52: Calvin Booth
Made the layup that won the Mavs’ first playoff series in a decade, in 2001 against the Utah Jazz.
53: Clarence Kea
I’m not going to pretend I know anything about Kea, who played 51 games for the early-1980s Mavs, averaging 3.9 points. But if he had been good, he would have been a headliner writer’s dream. “Kea play leads Mavs to victory” and so on. You see it.
54: Popeye Jones
55: Mike Iuzzolino
Iuzzolino looked like someone playing Steve Nash in a Lifetime movie called like Turning Point or something. If guard Delon Wright works out like everyone hopes, he will take the No. 55 crown this season.
56–69: no one
70: Dennis Rodman
Not long after Mark Cuban bought the team in 2000, he brought in the [long pause] mercurial forward, then 38 and basically out of basketball. Rodman’s homecoming (he grew up in Oak Cliff) was largely a disaster, but a short one, only lasting 13 games. As far as publicity stunts go, it was fine. Did it cost the Mavs playoff spot that season? Perhaps. OK, maybe it wasn’t fine.
71–76: no one
77: Luka Doncic
If everything goes to plan, Luka will play just as long as Dirk did and there will be a statue of him in front of the AAC, throwing a no-look pass through traffic to a shooter spotting up in the corner, and this number will be in the rafters next to 12, 15, 22, and 41.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Though Luka has the skills and a feel for the game that bely his age and experience, he is still young and he is still only in his second season in the NBA. There will be mistakes; that is the nature of how he plays. There might be a regression; that is a natural part of the maturation process. The team should be better, especially with the addition of Porzingis, but the West is crowded with good teams, too many good teams, in fact, for all of them to make the playoffs. One or two or maybe even three will be left on the outside, with a record that would give them home-court advantage in the East and a fanbase wondering what the heck in the world just happened.
Or maybe Doncic improves on everything and turns the learning curve into a straight line pointing up and to the right. Maybe he is exactly the MVP-type player he was in Europe not eventually but now. Maybe.
It could go either way, or somewhere in between. But let’s give it time to happen.
78–89: no one
90: Drew Gooden
I’ll always appreciate Gooden because he was a man who was not afraid to play around with his look.
91: no one
92: DeShawn Stevenson
A few days after winning the 2011 championship, Stevenson was arrested for public intoxication at an Irving apartment complex. Between that and his game (a role player who played hard defense and could hit the occasional three), I would say that he is the most relatable Maverick, to me.
93–99: no one
We haven’t had a No. 99 yet, but I’m sure it will happen sooner rather than later. If I had to guess, I would say in the 2021-22 season.