Across the four major sports, jersey numbers are hung in the rafters to honor those who have so convincingly outperformed the rest of the competition. A retired number is mythological. When scanning available jersey numbers and the list jumps from No. 41 to 43, the MLB rookie knows why he’ll never have “42” stitched onto his jersey.
We did an analysis to see which numbers are most frequently retired throughout all of professional sports. Check out the numbers with the most reverence and the players who earned those spots in the rafters.
MLB Retired Jersey Numbers
Jackie Robinson pioneered a national civil rights movement in America during 10 seasons with the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1940s and ’50s. The first African-American player in Major League Baseball, Jack Roosevelt Robinson amassed Hall-of-Fame numbers during his playing career and earned a league wide retirement of his jersey number in 1997. No other MLB player will wear No. 42 (in fact, it’s the only MLB jersey to be retired league wide).
MLB’s next most popular retired jersey is No. 20. Ten individual players throughout the history of the league have had their No. 20 jersey retired. The most notable athletes to wear No. 20 include Mike Schmidt (18 seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies), Luis Gonzalez (18 seasons in MLB – jersey retired with the Arizona Diamondbacks), and Jorge Posada (16 seasons with the New York Yankees).
With nine jerseys, No. 14 is second among the most retired numbers in Major League Baseball. Notable players to have worn No. 14 include Pete Rose (Cincinnati Reds), Paul Konerko (Chicago White Sox), and Ernie Banks (Chicago Cubs).
No. 1 has been stitched beneath the name of some of baseball’s biggest legends. Eight No. 1 jerseys have been retired among certain MLB teams. Notable players to have worn No. 1 include Hall-of-Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith (St. Louis Cardinals), Bobby Doerr (Boston Red Sox), and Hall-of-Famer Pee Wee Reese (Los Angeles Dodgers).
NBA Retired Jersey Numbers
The National Basketball Association has retired the No. 32 jersey a grand total of 11 times across the league. Among the legends to don No. 32 are five-time champion Ervin “Magic” Johnson (Los Angeles Lakers), basketball legend Julius “Dr. J” Erving (Philadelphia 76ers), and Utah Jazz big man Karl Malone.
Who would Magic be without Bird? Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird donned the No. 33 jersey for 13 seasons, winning three championships during that time. Two more No. 33 jerseys to be retired belong to six-time champion Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the Lakers and Patrick Ewing for the Knicks.
NFL Retired Jersey Numbers
Before John Elway ran the Denver Broncos as a championship-winning general manager, he donned the No. 7 jersey in two championships as the team’s quarterback. Denver has since retired Elway’s No. 7. Other notable No. 7 jerseys to be retired include New York Giant Mel Hein and George Halas of the Chicago Bears.
Along with the No. 7 jersey, three others have also been retired a total of five times. No. 14, 40, and 70 are off-limits for a handful of teams across the country. Legendary No. 14 players include Y.A. Tittle (New York Giants), Dan Fouts (San Diego Chargers), and Otto Graham (Cleveland Browns). Notable No. 40 players include the late Pat Tillman (Arizona Cardinals) and Gale Sayers of the Chicago Bears.
NHL Retired Jersey Numbers
Up in the rafters throughout the NHL, the “Great One” is honored. Wayne Gretzky, No. 99, changed the game during his 21 seasons in the NHL. In homage to the dominance and skill level with which Gretzky played, No. 99 has been retired league wide (it’s the only number retired league wide to date). Gretzky holds 40 NHL regular season records, 15 playoff records, and four Stanley Cup wins.
If you can’t have two nines, one will have to do. The No. 9 jersey has been retired 12 times throughout the history of the NHL. Notable No. 9 players include legends Gordie Howe (Detroit Red Wings), Maurice Richard (Montreal Canadiens), and Bobby Hull (Chicago Blackhawks).
In keeping with the single-digit trend in the NHL, No. 7, 3, and 5 have all been retired at least eight times in the history of the league. All-Stars to retire No. 7 include Edmonton Oilers player Paul Coffey, Boston Bruin Phil Esposito, and Toronto Maple Leaf Tim Horton. Famous No. 3 jerseys hanging in the rafters include those belonging to Keith Magnuson (Chicago Blackhawks) and Bob Gassoff (St. Louis Blues).
Records will be broken, and athletic feats will be topped, but for those who did it first, the achievements resound throughout generations. So if you’re looking for a piece of history, check out Fanatics.com for Robinson’s No. 42 or Gretzky’s No. 99 to sport on game day.
What does retiring a jersey mean
Retiring the number of an athlete is an honor a team bestows upon a player, usually after the player has left the team, retires from the sport or dies. Once a number is retired, no future player from the team may wear that number on their uniform, unless the player so-honored permits it; however, in many cases the number cannot be used at all.