Throughout sports history, there have been players whose greatness has left a mark on the world of sports as a whole. These players have created an image of success through the number they carried on their back. Here is a list of our top 10 most iconic jersey numbers in order (1-10):


Michael Jordan,

The number 23 practically radiates greatness. The historical significance of the number truly came to stardom with the rise of Michael Jordan. Jordan took a dream and turned it into a reality, becoming arguably the best basketball player to play the game. Through his claim to fame the number 23 infamously imprinted itself into the history books. Jordan finished his career with six championship victories, six Finals MVP awards, five NBA MVP awards, 28 game winning shots and, well you get the picture.

Other greats such as LeBron James and David Beckham also wore the number 23. While James wore the number for only part of his career, his impact on the game of basketball puts him up there with Jordan.

Honorable Mentions:
Calvin Murphy (NBA), Devin Hester (NFL)


Earvin “Magic” Johnson,

The number 32 finds its way as the second most iconic jersey number due to its star-studded cast. One of the most prominent to wear the number was Earvin “Magic” Johnson. Johnson’s notoriety and dominance led him to claim a spot as arguably one of the top three best players ever in the NBA with 3 Finals MVP awards and 5 NBA Championships.

Jim Brown quickly became one of the best running backs in NFL history as he won three NFL MVP awards, the Rookie of the Year Award and over his nine-year career tallied over 12,000 rushing yards.

Honorable Mentions:
Karl Malone (NBA), Bill Walton (NBA), Sandy Koufax (MLB), O.J. Simpson (NFL)


Jackie Robinson,

The number 42, while it may not have a lengthy list full of all time greats, does have one man, Jackie Robinson. Robinson broke the color barrier back in 1947 and the world of baseball has never been the same. The MLB retired the number 42 in 1997 and the last great player to wear the number was Mariano Rivera who surely did it justice.

Honorable Mentions:
James Worthy (NBA), Mariano Rivera (MLB)


Tom Brady,

The number 12 seems to be synonymous with great quarterbacks, as Tom Brady, Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach and Joe Namath all wore the number 12. Somewhat coincidentally, NBA point guard and all time assist leader John Stockton also wore the number 12. Each of these players were greats in their own right and they all seemed to have the gift of passing the ball—really really well.

Honorable Mentions:
Roberto Alomar (MLB), Jim Kelly (NFL), Dickie Moore (NHL)


Babe Ruth,

The number three has a lengthy list of all-time greats headlined by the legend Babe Ruth. Ruth electrified the world of baseball and filled the history books with 2 All-Star appearances, 7 World Series Championships, 12 American League Home Run Championships, and the New York Yankees retired his number.

Ruth shares his number with other greats such as Allen Iverson and Dwayne Wade. Each of these basketball stars thrilled fans throughout their illustrious careers and Wade will certainly join Iverson in the Hall of Fame following his retirement.

Honorable Mentions:
Dale Earnhardt (NASCAR), Chris Paul (NBA), Russell Wilson (NFL), Harmon Killebrew (MLB)


Lionel Messi,

From Diego Maradona to Pelè, the world of soccer unanimously recognizes number 10 as the all time greatest number in the sport. More recently Lionel Messi has donned the number and has surely kept up with the legendary status laid before him. The world of soccer dominates this number and no athlete wearing number 10 has lived up to the successes laid forth by these three players.

Honorable Mention:
Walt “Clyde” Frazier (NBA)


Christiano Ronaldo,

The number seven’s greatness stretches across a variety of sports. In the soccer world, Christiano Ronaldo has challenged Lionel Messi as today’s greatest soccer player. Across the hemisphere, John Elway led the Denver Broncos to two Super Bowl wins and won the Super Bowl MVP award back in 1998. Elway continues to impact the sports world even without the infamous number seven on his back.

Mickey Mantle stood atop the MLB winning seven World Series titles and made a massive 20 All Star appearances. Mantle will forever be enshrined as a legend in the Yankees organization.

Honorable Mentions:
“Pistol” Pete Maravich (NBA), Carmelo Anthony (NBA), Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez (MLB)


Wayne Gretzky,

Every athlete recognizes the sheer power Wayne Gretzky enforced with the number 99 on his back. The Hall of Famers loaded stat sheet and countless awards still don’t seem to do justice to “The Great One”. Following his retirement, Gretzky had or shared a whopping 61 NHL records. The NHL officially retired his number league wide back in 1999.

Honorable Mentions:
George Mikan (NBA), Warren Sapp (NFL)


Shaquille O’Neal,

Three iconic posts, Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, and Hakeem Olajuwon each wore the number thirty-four. Surprisingly, however, O’Neal and Barkley switched numbers throughout their careers, causing the number to fall in our rankings. Yet another quintessential athlete to wear the number thirty-four was Nolan Ryan. Ryan threw seven no-hitters, made eight all star appearances, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999.

Honorable Mentions:
Ray Allen (NBA), Walter Payton (NFL)


Kobe Bryant,

Coming in last in our top ten is the number 24. Many great athletes have worn the number, but none matches up to the stature of Kobe Bryant. The Black Mamba made his mark on the NBA wearing the number as he scored his way to five championships and eighteen All Star appearances. While Bryant did wear number eight for a period of time, his number in high school and later in the NBA was number twenty-four and the legacy of “24” will undoubtedly live forever.

Honorable Mentions:
Willie Mays (MLB), Jeff Gordon (NASCAR)

Each of these numbers truly resonates greatness in the world of sports, yet there are still so many greats who just barely missed our list. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

About The Author

Wes Stenovitch is a sophomore sports management major at the University of North Texas. He spends his spare time watching sports, fishing, and playing basketball. You can catch him re-watching "The Office" or playing with his dog, Duke.

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