Phelps: The history of being 23

LeBron James is entering his ninth season with the Cavaliers -- and his ninth season wearing No. 23 with the Cavaliers.


Think fast. No. 23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers? None other than LeBron James, of course. Couldn’t be anyone else — only it was.

Before LeBron became a Cavalier (not once, but twice), the No. 23 was worn by nine other Cleveland Cavaliers, none of whom wore it with much distinction.

Let’s take a look:

Gary Freeman

The No. 23 was first put to use during the Cavaliers’ first season in 1970. Gary Freeman, a 6-foot-9 forward from Oregon State, wore 23 for all of 11 games, and scored all of 15 points before being traded to Milwaukee for McCoy McLemore.

Rowland Garrett

Five years later, in the 1975-76 season, No. 23 reappeared on Rowland Garrett. He was the other guy who came to the Cavs from Chicago in the Nate Thurmond trade. Garrett lasted 70 games over two seasons with the Cavs.

Mike Bratz

No. 23 stayed in storage until Mike Bratz came to Cleveland in a trade with Dallas for the 1980-81 season — his only season as a Cavalier.

The pick that went to Dallas for Bratz? It became the fourth overall pick in the 1984 draft — with the Mavericks selecting North Carolina’s Sam Perkins. Oops.

Bruce Flowers

Bruce Flowers from Notre Dame wore No. 23 for the Cavs in the 1982-83 season. He was a one and done in Cleveland — averaging 4.9 points a game in his only season in No. 23.

Tyrone Corbin

It was four more seasons until 23 reappeared, on Tyrone Corbin. But shock, shock. Tyrone didn’t keep it long — 86 games over two seasons, then was traded to Phoenix in the deal for Larry Nance.

John Morton

Bring on John Morton in 1989. He was the Cavaliers’ first-round draft choice from Seton Hall. And he wore No. 23 for the Cavaliers for … just 107 games over parts of three seasons.

Rod Higgins

But that’s a lot longer than Rod Higgins wore No. 23 for the Cavaliers. The guy who later became Michael Jordan’s right-hand man in Charlotte was No. 23 for the Cavaliers for 36 games in the 1993-94 season.

Carl Thomas

Does the name Carl Thomas ring a bell? He was a 6-4 guard from Eastern Michigan who spent 48 games in No. 23 for the Cavs over two seasons — from 1996 to 1998.

His twin brother Charles is an assistant coach at the University of Akron for Keith Dambrot — LeBron James’ first high school coach at St. Vincent-St. Mary.

Derek Anderson

No. 23 went high profile in 1997. It was worn by Cavs first-round draft choice Derek Anderson from the University of Kentucky.

He didn’t wear it for long either — 104 games over two seasons — but Anderson was the only player to average double figures in scoring for the Cavs in No. 23, until …

LeBron James

LeBron James was drafted first overall by the Cavaliers in 2003, and assumed his high school number — 23. He’s entering his ninth season wearing No. 23 for the Cavaliers.

Here’s guessing that before too long, the No. 23 will be hanging from the rafters at Quicken Loans Arena.

But sorry Rowland, Bruce, Carl, and the rest of you not named LeBron. It won’t be there to honor you.

Jeff Phelps is the host of the “Cavaliers Live” pre- and post-game shows on FOX Sports Ohio.

1 Comment on "Phelps: The history of being 23"

  1. Mr. Phelps,
    I believe the late Jackie Ridgle was also an early wearer of number 23 for the Cavs. I lobbied with great fervor to get it retired for Mr. Ridgle during a recent four-year stretch, but was yawned at and ignored. (I stand by my position, however.)

    I enjoyed your article, and thank you for writing it. GO CAVS!! 🙂

    🙂 — Chuck Slone — 🙂
    Louisville, Ky

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