The Chicago Bulls introduced their first-round draft pick, Denzel Valentine, to the NBA world this week, and the number 14 overall pick already has something in common with Bulls legend, Hall of Famer, six-time NBA champion, and arguably the greatest player to ever lace up a pair of sneakers, Michael Jordan.
Certainly nobody in their right frame of mind would think that Valentine will all of a sudden make the Chicago Bulls a serious title contender, but the former Michigan State star does bring a load of accolades with him to Chicago, including 2016 Big Ten Player of the Year, Big Ten Tournament Most Outstanding Player, and the prestigious AP Player of the Year award.
Of course, none of that will matter when the Bulls suit up in the fall, and there will certainly be an adjustment period for Valentine. Nobody quite knows yet what the Chicago Bulls’ roster will look like on opening night after the trade of Derrick Rose, the uncertainty of the return of Pau Gasol, and the large number of trade rumors surrounding several of their players. What Bulls fans can count on is that Denzel Valentine will be there and will be ready to work. And he’ll be doing it in a very famous Bulls jersey number.
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) June 27, 2016
That’s right. Denzel Valentine will wear number 45 for the Chicago Bulls. You know, that other number that Michael Jordan wore for 22 games all the way back in 1995. Jordan also wore a nameless number 12 jersey once, ironically enough on Valentine’s Day in 1990 after his number 23 was stolen before a game in Orlando, but it’s safe to say that the jersey sales for 45 were a little higher.
Valentine will be the fourth member of the Chicago Bulls to wear the number 45 since Jordan famously gave it up and returned to his familiar number 23 during the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals versus the Orlando Magic after some disparaging remarks from Nick Anderson. However, Valentine hopes to make better use of the jersey than the three other Bulls that chose to wear it since Jordan let it go.
Names like Paul Shirley (7 games, 3.0 points, 2.3 rebounds in 2003-2004), Luke Schenscher (20 games, 1.8 points, 1.5 rebounds in 2005-2006), and Rasual Butler (6 games, 2.7 points, 0.2 rebounds) don’t quite roll off the tongue quite as well as Michael Jordan, do they? Jordan himself was just the third person in Chicago Bulls history to wear the number. Scott Lloyd wore it for 67 games in the 1978-1979 campaign, and Ed Nealy donned it during three separate tenures with the Bulls spanning from 1989-1993, which would technically make him the only person in Chicago Bulls history to win an NBA championship while wearing the number.
Michael Jordan actually always wanted to wear the number 45 and did so for his first couple of years on the JV squad in high school, but when he finally made it to the varsity team, his older brother Larry was already sporting it. To remedy the situation, Michael took half of 45 (22.5), rounded it up to 23 and although he obviously didn’t know it at the time, marketing history was made. It wasn’t until his first retirement from basketball that he returned to 45 as a member of the Birmingham Barons (remember when Michael Jordan played baseball). Upon his return to the Chicago Bulls in 1995, Jordan went with the number 45 because the number 23 was the last number his father, who had been murdered following the Bulls’ third championship, had seen him play in.
Jordan would return to number 23 in Game 2 (it was his 23rd game back from retirement) of the aforementioned series with the Magic, which the Chicago Bulls would ultimately lose, but the team bounced back nicely, winning three more championships, including leading the most successful season in NBA history in 1995-1996 (sorry Golden State, another number 23 ruined that for you).
There doesn’t seem to be anything to the jersey selection other than it being the same number he wore at Michigan State. It’s just not every day that one can say he wore the exact same jersey as the most famous basketball player in history. Chicago Bulls fans can only hope that Valentine can help out a team in transition. Again, nobody is expecting Denzel Valentine to be Michael Jordan. Those would be some pretty big shoes to fill, wouldn’t they? And if we’re talking about Michael Jordan and shoes….well, I guess that’s a whole different animal, isn’t it?
[Photo by Mike Stube/Getty Images]