THEY'RE more than mere numbers, and there's more to them than meets the eye.
From important dates in their lives to lucky numbers to a happy coincidence, there's usually a compelling story behind the numbers your favorite players wear on their backs.
And more often that not, these stories will either surprise you or make you feel closer to your sports heroes.
Here's No. 15 of our Jersey Story Series:
THERE'S almost no stopping Greg Slaughter this season.
The Fil-Am slotman is having his best year in almost every statistical category, save for blocks, in just his third year in the PBA, averaging career-highs in points (21.8, plus 7 from last year) and rebounds (13.4, plus 3 from last season).
And especially in the import-laden Commissioner’s Cup, Slaughter is standing his ground as the top local rebounder. In fact, among all players including imports, he’s ninth in blocks (1.3) and 10th in rebounds (10.3, the only local with double digit boards per game).
The implication is clear: Slaughter is close to becoming an unstoppable force in the paint. But there’s one aspect where the seven-footer can’t get his way: his choice of jersey number.
Slaughter wears the No. 20 in the PBA as a nod to his successful collegiate career at Ateneo where he helped the Blue Eagles complete a five-peat in the UAAP, winning the titles in 2011 and 2012 in his short stint in Katipunan.
“I had pretty good success and good times with that number so I stuck with it,” said Slaughter. “No sentimental reason behind it, but if I could have my way I’m thinking about changing it.”
One big problem: The number switch he’s thinking of doing is an act of sacrilege to the PBA’s most popular franchise, and he knows it.
“Obviously, I can’t wear number 7, being on Ginebra,” said Slaughter, referring to the jersey number of Ginebra icon Robert Jaworski which the organization has retired.
But the thing is, No. 7 has held special significance for Slaughter.
“It’s always been a lucky number. When I came to University of the Visayas, I chose 7 because we were going for our seventh championship in a row. And it just so happened we did win that seventh consecutive championship. So it was lucky for me,” he said.
“And also, 7 is perfect for the seven-foot club. So it just falls into place. But unfortunately, there’s no way [I’m wearing that in Ginebra]. I respect the Big J and that number is forever retired,” added Slaughter.
Fortunately, Slaughter has Plan B - a switch to the number that set him off on a basketball career in the first place.
“I’m thinking of changing back to 55,” said Slaughter, who wore 55 when he played for Massaponax High School in Virginia. “I just felt 55 was more of a big man’s number and I felt really comfortable with it.”
In case you’re curious, famous players who’ve worn 55 are NBA stars Dikembe Mutombo and Jason Williams, but it’s safe to say Slaughter dreamed more of swatting shots and wagging his finger like Deke rather than doing fancy crossovers and passes like Williams.
But Slaughter has a rather curious reason behind his fondness for 55. It came in a premonition.
“I was playing this one game, and I saw a basketball player wearing 55 who looked like me. I thought at that time that basketball was going to be my calling,” Slaughter revealed. “I was in high school, I was already wearing number 55 and then when I saw that guy, that was it.”
What pushed him to fulfill his basketball dream in the Philippines was one fortuitous vacation in the country in 2004.
“I got to see my first PBA All-Star game in Cebu when I was just in town visiting my relatives,” shared Slaughter, who recalled that he was standing outside the Cebu Coliseum with his uncle looking for tickets at the time.
Fortunately, they managed to get tickets, but despite finding themselves in the nosebleed section, a 16-year-old Slaughter was in awe of one particular player.
“I saw how big the PBA was, the frenzy of the fans, the excitement of the game, and ever since then the PBA opened my eyes, I definitely wanted to be in the league, especially when I saw Asi,” Slaughter recalled the first time he saw NLEX big man Asi Taulava who was playing for Talk ‘N Text at the time.
“I was just wowed especially with one play when he had (the ball) and there were three people around him, but he just brought it through and dunked it on everyone. I was like, 'Man that guy is humongous,'” he added.
“And I couldn’t have imagined then that I’d be playing with him now. He’s my idol. Every time I play him, it’s always such a big honor for me to go against him.”
Slaughter idolizing Taulava seems foreboding, especially since the 2003 PBA MVP started his career wearing No. 55 — a fact that’s unknown to Slaughter. And the peculiar thing is, Taulava switched to No. 88, twice, and has reaped good fortune since.
Now, to be clear, team success is in no way dependent on a player’s jersey number. But don’t be surprised if Slaughter’s the superstitious kind and follows in his idol’s footsteps.
As he said, everything’s falling into place. If he does make the switch, there’s definitely no stopping him.