Think of the number 23, and Michael Jordan immediately comes to mind. Wayne Gretzky is and always will be 99. And the number 42 so belonged to Jackie Robinson that it is now retired by all 30 MLB teams.
Some uniform numbers are inextricably linked to certain players no matter who else has worn them. So it is in Phoenix Suns lore as well. Numbers like 5, 6, 7, 9, 13, and 42 all have only one true owner in the hearts of most Suns fans; others aren’t always so clear.
As we enter the home stretch of the part of the offseason when nothing newsworthy happens, here is part one of a two-part series looking back at the best Suns to ever wear each jersey number.
As a note, the following numbers have never been worn by a Phoenix Sun: 36, 37, 38, 39, 48, 49, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 99. Any young player or 10-day contract signee longing to etch their names into the annals of team history, those numbers are your ticket in.
00 Tony Delk
If you score 53 points in a game, you’re automatically the best to ever wear the number. It also makes it easier when no other Sun has ever worn number 00. Delk spent a season and a half with Phoenix from 2000-01 to 2001-02, where he averaged 11.7 points as a reserve off the bench. But everyone will remember Tony Buckets for one of the least probable scoring outbursts in NBA history when he dropped a career-high 53 on the Sacramento Kings on Jan. 2, 2001.
0 Michael Beasley
Contenders: Aaron Brooks
Yes, I’m serious. As incredible as it is to believe, there hasn’t been anyone better than Be Easy to don the number 0 for Phoenix. He averaged 10.1 points and 3.8 rebounds in 2012-13, which most Suns fans are eager to forget.
It’s a low bar to clear, Marquese Chriss. Get to work.
1 Amar’e Stoudemire
Contenders: Anfernee Hardaway, Goran Dragic
This was a very competitive field, proving that one is, in fact, not the loneliest number. Stoudemire averaged 22.6 points and 9 rebounds from 2006-07 to 2009-10 after switching from 32 to 1. He also helped lead the Suns to the playoffs in three of those four seasons, was an All Star every year, made three All-NBA teams, and started wearing goggles.
2 Joe Johnson
Contenders: Eric Bledsoe, Elliot Perry
Johnson narrowly beat out Bledsoe for this spot. He spent three and a half seasons with the Suns after being acquired from the Boston Celtics in 2002 and averaged 14 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 3.5 assists during that span. Johnson had his best season with the Suns in 2004-05 but left the following season for the Atlanta Hawks in what remains Robert Sarver’s greatest basketball misstep.
3 Stephon Marbury
Contenders: Rex Chapman, Boris Diaw, Quentin Richardson, Jared Dudley
Starbury spent two and a half seasons with the Suns, averaging 21.3 points and 8.1 assists. His best season came in 2002-03 when he was named an All Star and led Phoenix to the playoffs, where they put up a stiff fight against the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs. Maybe you remember the game winner he sank?
4 Marcin Gortat
Contenders: Kyle Macy, Michael Finley, Tyson Chandler
Gortat spent two and a half seasons with the Suns, averaging 13.3 points and 9.3 rebounds as Phoenix’s center from 2010-11 to 2012-13. Unfortunately, the Polish Machine struggled without his pick-and-roll buddy and was dealt to the Washington Wizards in 2013.
5 Dick Van Arsdale
Acquired by the Phoenix Suns in the 1968 expansion draft, Van Arsdale spent nine seasons wearing number 5 in the desert before retiring at the conclusion of the 1976-77 season. In those nine seasons, The Original Sun averaged 17.6 points and ranks in the top five in Suns history for games, minutes, points, field goals, and free throws. He was the second player to enter the Phoenix Suns Ring of Honor.
6 Walter Davis
Sweet D was drafted by the Suns in 1977 and spent the next 11 seasons in purple and orange, averaging 20.5 points and 4.4 assists on 52-percent shooting from the field. He was named Rookie of the Year with the Suns, made six All-Star teams and two All-NBA teams, and ranks in the top five of nearly every major statistical category for the Suns, including ranking as the all-time team leader for points and field goals. He entered the Ring of Honor in 1994.
7 Kevin Johnson
Contender (in the loosest sense of the word): Bernard Thompson
KJ originally wore number 11 when he was traded to the Suns in 1988 but switched the following season and made number 7 his own. Over those 655 games he played in that number, Johnson averaged 18.9 points and 9.6 assists, made three All-Star teams and five All-NBA teams, was named 1988-89 Most Improved Player, and helped the Suns make the 1993 NBA Finals. He also holds the team record for most assists (25) and most minutes (62) in any game, regular season or playoffs. Johnson entered the Ring of Honor in 2001.
8 Eddie Johnson
Contender: Channing Frye
The other Johnson from those late 80’s teams, EJ spent three and a half seasons with the Suns from 1987-88 to 1990-91. Over those 222 games, he averaged 18.4 points — mostly off the bench — and was named Sixth Man of the Year in 1988-89. Johnson, who now does color commentary for Suns broadcasts, scored 43 points in the second half of a game against the Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 12, 1988.
9 Dan Majerle
Majerle was drafted by the Suns in 1988 and infamously booed by Suns fans when his name was announced. He would win the hearts and minds of the fan base, however, with his grit and long-range prowess. Thunder Dan played eight seasons with the Suns, where he averaged 13.5 points, made three All-Star teams and two All-Defensive teams, and still ranks second in team history for made 3-pointers. Majerle was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Hot Rod Williams in 1996 but returned to Phoenix in 2001-02 to retire as a Sun. He entered the Ring of Honor in 2003.
10 Leandro Barbosa
Contender: Don Buse
Barbosa has spent eight seasons with the Suns in his career and will be entering his ninth this October — albeit under a different jersey number. A reserve for most of his career, The Brazilian Blur has averaged 12.4 points with the Suns and ranks third in team history for made 3-pointers with 716. He was named Sixth Man of the Year for the 2006-07 season.
11 Clem Haskins
Contenders: Markieff Morris, Mike Sanders
A Morris twin nearly cracked the list, but Clem Haskins edged him out. Haskins played for the Suns from 1970-71 to 1973-74, and the combo guard averaged 13.8 points and 3.6 assists in that time. His best season with the Suns came in 1970-71, when he averaged 17.8 points and 4.7 assists.
12 T.J. Warren
Contenders: Mickael Pietrus, Toby Bailey, Howard Eisley, Kendall Marshall
This was a competitive number, but not necessarily in a good way. Despite playing just two seasons and having the second one ended with injury, Warren gets the nod here. He was averaging 11 points last season and has put up 8.7 points over his first two seasons combined. Here’s hoping he solidifies his stake on the number 12 in the coming years.
13 Steve Nash
Contenders: Luc Longley, Gus Johnson
This really was no contest. After 10 seasons in number 13, Nash owns this number. Besides reinvigorating the Suns upon his return in 2004, he was a two-time MVP, six-time All Star, made five All-NBA teams, and ranks as the franchise leader in assists, 3-pointers made, 3-point percentage, and free throw percentage. Nash joined the Ring of Honor in October 2015.
14 Jeff Hornacek
Contenders: Keith Erickson, Gerald Green
Drafted by the Suns in 1986, Hornacek turned himself into a solid NBA player. He averaged 13.7 points and 5.4 assists over six seasons in Phoenix and made the 1992 All-Star team while sharing the backcourt with Kevin Johnson. His best season saw him average 20.1 points and 5.1 assists while nearly joining the 50-40-90 club.
15 Danny Manning
Contender: Robin Lopez
Injuries may have robbed Manning of what he could have been, but that didn’t mean the man couldn’t play. From 1994-95 to 1998-99, Manning averaged 13.4 points and 5.4 rebounds as an oft-injured reserve. He did, however, win the 1997-98 Sixth Man of the Year award. Manning would be traded for Penny Hardaway following the 1998-99 season.
16 Lamar Green
Contender: Georgi Glouchkov
The pickings were pretty slim at number 16, but Lamar Green gets the edge by averaging 5.2 points and 6.3 rebounds over five seasons from 1969-70 to 1973-74. As an added benefit, now you’ve heard of Lamar Green.
17 P.J. Tucker
Contender: Louis Amundson
Tucker doesn’t have the most glamorous stats, but he’s head and shoulders above the others who’ve worn number 17 for the Suns. In four seasons, Tucker has averaged 8.2 points and 5.9 rebounds as a starter the majority of the time, turning back all comers for his job. Besides, winning four consecutive Majerle Hustle Awards has to count for something, right?
18 Curtis Perry
Contender: Hot Rod Williams
Perry played for the Phoenix Suns from 1974-75 to 1977-78 and averaged 11.5 points and 9.5 rebounds during that time. At only 6’7, Perry was tasked with playing power forward for the Suns but performed admirably. The 11.9 rebounds he grabbed in 1974-75 remain the fourth most ever by a Sun 6’7 or shorter in a single season.
19 Raja Bell
Contender: Hedo Turkoglu
As the consolation prize after losing Joe Johnson to the Hawks in 2005, Bell exceeded expectations in Phoenix. He averaged 13.4 points over three and a half seasons and was named to two All-Defensive teams. Bell also ranks fifth in team history for made 3-pointers and second for 3-point percentage, but everyone remembers him for The Clothesline.
20 Maurice Lucas
Contenders: Corky Calhoun, Jermaine O’Neal, Archie Goodwin
One of the toughest players in NBA history, Lucas played for the Suns from 1982-83 to 1984-85 and averaged 15.4 points and 9.7 rebounds. He made the All-Star team in 1983, with season averages of 16.5 points and 10.4 rebounds. Lucas remains the franchise leader in defensive rebound percentage.
21 Truck Robinson
Contenders: George Wilson, Richard Dumas, Jim Jackson, Alex Len
Leonard Robinson, better knows as Truck, spent three and a half seasons in Phoenix from 1978-79 to 1981-82. During those years, he averaged 18.1 points and 9.5 rebounds and was named an All Star in 1981.
22 Larry Nance
Contenders: Danny Ainge, Matt Barnes
Nance spent six and a half seasons in Phoenix after being drafted in 1981. He averaged 17.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game and was an All Star in 1985. Nance remains the franchise leader for blocks and blocks per game.
23 Jason Richardson
Contenders: Cedric Ceballos, Wayman Tisdale, Tyrone Corbin
J-Rich was a bit past his prime when he arrived in Phoenix in 2008, but over portions of three seasons with the Suns, he still averaged 16.5 points and 4.8 rebounds. And let’s not forget those big performances he had against the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2010 playoffs, including the 42-point outburst that included draining eight 3-pointers — one shy of Rex Chapman’s playoff franchise record.
24 Tom Chambers
Contenders: Dennis Johnson, Gar Heard, Tom Gugliotta
Chambers spent five seasons in Phoenix after joining the team as the NBA’s very first unrestricted free agent in 1988. He would average 25.7 and 27.2 points in his first two seasons in the desert and finished his time in Phoenix with averages of 20.6 points and 6.6 rebounds. Over those five years, he made three All-Star teams and was an All-NBA selection twice. Chambers owns the two hishest scoring regular season games in team history (60, 56). He went into the Ring of Honor in 1999.
There’s no need to mention he was traded for Marko Milic in 1997, so I won’t.