If you’ve ever watched college basketball, chances are you’ve never seen anyone wear a number ending in 6-through-9 or exceeding 55. If you’ve ever played a college basketball video game, you could never even create a character with such a number. So if you’ve played MyCareer in a recent NBA2K installment that included college, specifically 2K17, you might’ve been running alongside a No. 19 in your backcourt and thought to yourself, “What the fuck?” Or you might not have realized how unnatural that appeared if you don’t particularly care about jersey numbers.
Jersey numbers are something sports fans and athletes hold sacred, get accustomed to, and are especially anal about. Imagine if Tom Brady started wearing 14 this year instead of 12? TB14 just isn’t that marketable. [Sorry, Todd Blackledge.] Coincidentally, it was Brady who was the loudest voice in the room reacting to the NFL easing their jersey number restrictions, a ruling made official yesterday.
In college football, you can wear whatever number from 1-to-99 regardless of your position. Jadeveon Clowney, a defensive lineman, wore No. 7, Doug Flutie, a quarterback, wore No. 22, and Reggie Bush, a running back, wore No. 5. But in the NFL, until yesterday, quarterbacks, kickers, and punters could only wear 1-to-19. Running backs, fullbacks, and defensive backs were limited to 20-to-49. Receivers had to be in the teens or 80s, so on and so forth. Now, the NFL is loosening restrictions from the NFL standardization of 1973, which has seen little change since its original implementation.
But if they, the NFL, can evolve into a new era of numbers, why can’t the NCAA, specifically with college basketball? Before the NFL began restricting numbers in the way we’ve grown accustomed to, the NCAA implemented the rule for players being unable to wear 6-through-9 digits in, according to the New York Times, the early 1960s. In the NBA, we’ve seen Dennis Rodman [91, 73, and 70], Ron Artest [96, 93, 91, and 37], Luka Dončić , and many others not only wear numbers that end in 6-through-9, but numbers that are [well] above 55, which you can historically track on basketball-reference. In the WNBA, Erica Wheeler , Liz Cambage , Kayla Thornton , and Jackie Gemelos  are among those who also wear non-standard numbers.
If you’ve played high school basketball here in the United States, the same limitations trickled on down from college, in most cases. What you’ll typically hear is that, because most referees have five fingers on each hand, the rules are the rules and maintained with tradition. [Somehow “tradition” is a common cop-out to avoid progressive solutions everywhere in this country, huh?]
It’s not uncommon for players to sport these types of numbers in professional settings outside of the United States either, though. In yesterday’s EuroLeague Playoff match-up between Anadolu Efes and Real Madrid, you’ll see players like Efes’ Adrien Moerman , along with Madrid’s Usman Garuba , and Alex Tyus  playing with no problem. Evidently, the referee could just figure out how to signal to the scorer’s table who committed a foul. It’s almost as if they also use their voice to help, along with the fact that the game is right in front of the people watching with scorebooks.
At the end of the day, they’re just numbers, so why maintain these boundaries? Some schools will have too many retired numbers generations from now, and we’ll have point guards having to settle for No. 53. It’ll feel more unnatural than listening to Jay-Z rap on “Crown” off Magna Carta... Holy Grail. No other major sport has these restrictions. Hell, arguably the greatest athlete of all time wore No. 99.
There are players who wanna be like Lisa Leslie but won’t be able to wear No. 9 in her honor. Players who love Kobe Bryant and might want to wear No. 8 but never could because they’ll never play beyond the college level. Let’s not stand by old traditions we can work around. It’ll be cool to see the NFL’s best offensive weapons wearing single-digit numbers as many did in college. Or edge rushers wearing a number in the 20s, which will likely confuse quarterbacks at first, making for more entertaining games of chess on the line of scrimmage.
Again: If the NFL can do it, you can, too, NCAA. Let players wear any number they please. It’s not like we need to go to triple-digits yet (looking at you, Boston Celtics).