When it comes to sports, there is one thing that's always common denominator: numbers. 

When someone says 755, what comes to mind to a sports fan? Hank Aaron's number of career home runs (although the record is 762 by Barry Bonds). 

If someone were to say six Super Bowl rings, then that person has to be referring to the number of rings Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have won in New England. 

The number 100 makes me think of how many points Wilt Chamberlain scored in a single basketball game. 

But when you go beyond the number of rings, home runs and points, numbers are a part of sports in another major way.

Numbers are how we identify a lot of our favorite athletes. Kids playing baseball, basketball, football, hockey, soccer or driving a car want to use their favorite athlete's number, because that's who they aspire to be in that sport. 

There are several numbers that could lay claim to having the greatest athletes ever to wear the certain number. But one number just stands above the rest. 

Twenty-four (24, and no, it's no the Jack Bauer show) has been a staple for many of the greatest athletes in sports history. 

From the diamond to the track to the hardwood, 24 has made its mark in sports lore. 

Ken Griffey Jr. 

I wasn't even a year old when Ken Griffey Jr. made his presence known to the baseball world. As I grew up watching baseball, "The Kid" was a sight to behold. 

In an era ravaged with steroids and PEDs, Griffey didn't always play on the best teams or win a lot of games. But he was never in the middle of a "cheating" scandal when it came to how he played the game. 

Griffey wore No. 24 for the Seattle Mariners from 1989-99 and in his return from 2009-10. 

Six times as a Mariner, Griffey hit over 40 homers in a season. He also eclipsed 100 RBIs in eight different seasons.

"The Kid" had his number retired by the Mariners in 2016. He also happened to be voted into the National Baseball Hall Of Fame that same year.

In his career, Griffey hit 630 home runs, had 1,836 RBIs and amassed 2,781 hits. Just wearing No. 24, Griffey had 417 home runs, 1,216 RBIs and 1,843 hits.  

Jeff Gordon

Jeff Gordon is one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history. When you think of NASCAR, the names and numbers of Petty (43) and Earnhardt (3) are at the top of the list. But Gordon is right there with them. 

Gordon drove the No. 24 car from his rookie season in 1993 to his exit from full-time racing at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2015. He did return in 2016 midway through the season to drive Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 88, but he didn't win a race in the car, and he debuted in the No. 1 car in the final race of the 1992 season.

Gordon's No. 24 became iconic from his first win at the Coca-Cola 600 in 1994 through his last win at Martinsville in 2015. Gordon amassed 93 career wins (third all-time) in his time driving the No. 24. Gordon won 10, 10 and 13 races, respectively from 1996-98.

Oh, and we can't forget, Gordon took the No. 24 car to victory lane three times in the Daytona 500 and five times in the Brickyard 400. 

He won the NASCAR Cup Series championship four times (1995, 1997-98, 2001). He finished in the top five in points 11 times in his career. 

Gordon changed the face of NASCAR. Dale Earnhardt made NASCAR a household sport. Gordon's No. 24 made the world take notice. 

Kobe Bryant

One of the greatest NBA players of all-time, the "Black Mamba" had two phases of his career: wearing No. 8 and wearing No. 24. 

Kobe Bryant is the only player in NBA history to have two numbers retired with the same team. He did that with the Los Angeles Lakers. 

Young Kobe wore the No. 8 jersey, putting together highlight-reel performances, winning three NBA titles and dropping 81 points in a game (the most since Wilt Chamberlain).

But wearing the No. 8 is also where a lot of fractures happened with Kobe. He and Shaquille O'Neal had a bitter divorce with the Lakers. He was also accused of sexual assault in the summer of 2003. But a year later, the charges were dismissed. 

So, for the 2006-07 season, Bryant changed his jersey number from No. 8 to No. 24. In one interview, Bryant said switching to 24 represented growth, not physically but on a maturity level. 

While wearing No. 24, Bryant won two of his five NBA titles (2008-09, 2009-10). He was also the Finals MVP for both of those championships.

He was selected to 10 of his 18 All-Star games wearing No. 24. He also amassed a ton of points. Of his 33,643 points, 16,777 points were scored while wearing the No. 24 for the "Purple and Gold." 

In his final game, Bryant scored 60 points. Not a bad way to go out, and again, it came wearing the No. 24. 

Willie Mays

Willie Mays is one of the greatest baseball players of all time. He was nicknamed "The Say Hey Kid" for a reason. 

Mays played from 1951-1973 for the then-New York Giants (1951-57; he didn't play in 1953 due to his service in the U.S. Army). The team moved to San Francisco and he played there until 1972. He finished his career as a New York Met (1972-73). 

Mays is fifth on the all-time home run list with 660. He finished his career with 3,283 hits, which is 12th all-time.

In the outfield, though, is where Mays may be most remembered in the No. 24. He won 12 Gold Glove Awards. He is one of six outfielders in MLB history to have more than 10. 

In the outfield, Mays had what is considered to be one of the most memorable plays in the history of baseball, "The Catch." 

"The Catch" happened in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series. The New York Giants (Mays' team) went up against the Cleveland Indians. 

Tied at 2-2 in the top of the eighth inning, Cleveland's Vic Wertz came to the plate with two runners on base. He ripped a shot to center field, which looked to be going over Mays for a long base hit and runs scoring; however, Mays made an over-the-shoulder grab at the warning track, while also running in full stride. "The Catch" held runners at first and third. The Giants won the game in 10 innings and swept the series. 

Chris Chelios

I'm not much of a hockey aficionado, except that Wayne Gretzky was awesome, Bobby Orr has one of the most famous sports photos, ever, and when I watch hockey on TV, Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins is fun to watch. 

But, Mr. Chelios wore the No. 24 for three different teams: Montreal Canadians (1983-90); Detroit Red Wings (1998-2009); and the now-debunked Atlanta Thrashers (2009-10). 

Chelios was an 11-time All-Star in the NHL. He was awarded the NHL's best defenseman three times and won three Stanley Cups. 

The 2013 Hall of Famer won one Stanley Cup as a Canadian and two with the Red Wings. 

He played a total of 26 seasons. Let that soak in, a hockey player played 26 seasons. Sure, it isn't uncommon for hockey players to play a long time, but 26 seasons is a long time. 

Chelios' 1,651 games played ranks seventh all-time. 

Honorable Mentions

Champ Bailey (NFL): Bailey made 12 Pro Bowls in a career that spanned between the Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos (1999-2013). He finished his career with 52 interceptions. 

Barry Bonds (MLB): Before any scandals came upon Bonds, he was a player every team wanted when he wore No. 24 for the Pittsburgh Pirates (No. 25 with the San Francisco Giants). Bonds won two MVP awards, two Gold Gloves and stole 251 bases with the Pirates from 1986-92. 

Rick Barry (NBA/ABA): Barry wore No. 24 for both the NBA and ABA from 1965-78. Barry used the unorthodox-styled granny shot on free throws. But it worked as he was a 12-time All-Star and was a two-time champion. 

Bill Bradley (NBA): Bradley played only 10 seasons, but he made the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. The No. 24 he wore is part of the history of the team, because he's one of the reasons the New York Knicks have two championships to their legacy. 

Ricky Henderson (MLB): Henderson broke the mold when it came to stealing bases in baseball. He stole 1,406 bases in his career including 130 in one season. He was a 10-time All-Star and won the World Series twice. 

Charles Phelps is a reporter Mainstreet News and can be reached at charles@mainstreetnews.com


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