James, who has worn No. 6 as a member of Team USA and wears the same digit on his practice jersey, had worn No. 23 during his first three seasons with the Lakers. He also wore No. 23 for 11 seasons across two stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and previously wore No. 6 with the Miami Heat.
This isn’t the first time James has looked to switch his Lakers’ jersey number. In 2019, when Los Angeles acquired Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans, James was ready to give up his No. 23 to the team’s newly acquired star as it was also the number Davis wore during his first seven seasons in the NBA. However, due to potential production and financial issues with manufacturer Nike, those plans were halted.
The Lakers’ captain is not the first to make a number change while donning the purple and gold, as former Hall of Famers and franchise legends like Kobe Bryant and Gail Goodrich have made switches in the past. Here are the top jersey switches in Lakers’ history, including some insight into the motivations that sparked the change.
Hall of Famer Gail Goodrich has his No. 25 hanging in the Staples Center rafters, but that wasn’t the number on his jersey when he debuted with the Lakers in 1965. When the 6-foot-1 guard joined the Lakers as a rookie, the No. 25 he wore at UCLA was taken by center Leroy Ellis, so he settled for No. 11. In 1968 he was selected by the Phoenix Suns in the NBA’s expansion draft, and No. 25 was available to him in Phoenix — and remained available when he was traded back to the Lakers two years later. He played six seasons in Los Angeles wearing No. 25, making four All-Star appearances and helping the Lakers win the title in 1972.
When Jones joined the Lakers as a rookie in 1994, Goodrich’s No. 25 had yet to be retired, and had in fact been worn by four other players since Goodrich (including Mitch Kupchak, who was part of the front office that drafted Jones). However, on Nov. 20, 1996, the Lakers put Goodrich’s jersey in the rafters, and Jones switched to No. 6 — coincidentally the same number that LeBron James will sport next season. That is something Jones is used to; he also wore No. 6 for six seasons with the Miami Heat, only to see James eventually wear it there as well.
The reasons why Kobe Bryant wore No. 8 were twofold. One, No. 8 paid homage to the number he wore as a youth in Italy, where his family resided during the time of his father playing professionally in Europe. Two, it harkened back to his days participating at the Adidas ABCD camp where Bryant wore No. 143. 1 + 4 + 3 = 8.
But Bryant made the request to switch to No. 24 in 2005, shortly after the Lakers traded Shaquille O’Neal in a blockbuster deal to the Miami Heat. Kobe was ready for a fresh start, but due to deadlines, he’d have to wait until the 2006-07 season to get his new digits.
“It’s kind of a clean slate,” Bryant said. “I started new. Just start completely fresh, focus on the number that meant a lot to me.”
That clean slate would result in two more NBA championships for Bryant, and his only MVP award. The Lakers would go on to retire both his numbers in 2017, making him the only player in NBA history to have two different jersey numbers retired by the same franchise.
Few players have had as many jersey numbers, or name changes, as Metta Sandiford-Artest. Artest, who spent six seasons with the Lakers, was signed as a free agent to a five-year deal worth about $33 million. In honor of Michael Jackson, Artest chose the No. 37 for his jersey, in reference to Jackson’s Thriller album which held the top spot on the charts for 37 straight weeks.
After memorably coming up clutch in the 2010 Finals with Kobe Bryant to win the title over the Boston Celtics in seven games, Artest made another change, back to his longtime number from St. John’s and as a rookie in the NBA — No. 15. Artest would also convert his name, as he officially changed it to Metta World Peace in 2011.
Artest would return back to the Lakers in 2015 after stints in China and Italy, donning the No. 37 once again.
This isn’t the first time James has shelved No. 23 for No. 6. In 2009, the final season of his first stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers, James announced he’d be changing jersey numbers, and suggested that the league should retire No. 23 in honor of Michael Jordan. To date, only two teams have done so: the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat, who have Jordan’s 23 hanging on the wall of their arena (Pat Riley retired it in Jordan’s honor for his contributions to the game), which helped force James’ original jersey number switch.
That wasn’t even James’ first Jordan-related jersey number switch: In the 2004 Olympics, James sported the same No. 9 for Team USA that Jordan had worn in 1984 and 1992. However, after that team failed to win gold, James switched to his now-familiar No. 6 — which he wears in honor of Julius Erving, his second-favorite player growing up — for all future Team USA appearances.
Even while wearing No. 23 in his return to Cleveland and later in Los Angeles, James has regularly continued to wear No. 6 during practices. Now, starting next season, he’ll become the 12th Laker to wear it during a game, joining Chucky Brown, Eddie Jones, Jelani McCoy, Maurice Evans, Adam Morrison, Josh McRoberts, Earl Clark, Kent Bazemore, Jordan Clarkson, Derrick Williams and Lance Stephenson.