Why James Harden Isn’t Wearing No. 13 With the 76ers

The Philadelphia 76ers expect James Harden to debut after the All-Star break. But there’s more to his new look besides donning the red-white-and-blue of the Sixers.

For the first time in his career, The Beard won’t wear No. 13. He picked the number while at Artesia High School in Lakewood, California. He kept it through two seasons at Arizona State, his three years with the Oklahoma City Thunder, eight-plus campaigns with the Houston Rockets, and his 13 months in Brooklyn.

But the number isn’t available with the Sixers. A Philadelphia legend made sure of that.

James Harden selected No. 1 for the Philadelphia 76ers

The Philadelphia 76ers acquired James Harden and forward Paul Millsap at the Feb. 10 NBA trade deadline, surrendering guard Seth Curry, center Andre Drummond, and three-time All-Star Ben Simmons. In the deal, they also gave up two first-round picks, one protected.

Adrian Wojnarowski said on ESPN’s NBA Today on Feb. 18 that the 76ers expect Harden to play on Feb. 25 when Philadelphia visits the Minnesota Timberwolves. That’s the first game after the All-Star break. The 2017–18 NBA MVP would make his home debut on March 2 against the New York Knicks.

Harden hasn’t played since Feb. 2 because of tightness in his left hamstring. The 32-year-old missed more than a month last season and was hobbled during the playoffs with a strained right hamstring, so the Sixers aren’t taking any chances.

When The Beard debuts, he’ll be wearing No. 1, Drummond’s number before the trade. At least one Sixer has worn the digit every season since 2012–13, a run that began with Nick Young. It continued with 2013–14 Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams, JaVale McGee, Glenn Robinson III, Ish Smith, Tony Wroten, T.J. McConnell, Justin Anderson, Landry Shamet, Mike Scott, and Drummond.

Five other Philadelphia players wore the number. Wes Matthews (father of the current member of the Milwaukee Bucks) was the first in 1983–84. Scott Brooks, B.J. Tyler, Tim Thomas, and Samuel Dalembert are the others.

But why couldn’t Harden have No. 13?

Wilt Chamberlain put No. 13 in the rafters for the Philadelphia 76ers

While Wilt Chamberlain wasn’t the last member of the Philadelphia 76ers to wear No. 13, he was indisputably the best. The Philadelphia native made his NBA debut with the Warriors when they still played in the City of Brotherly Love, leaving with the franchise for San Francisco in 1962.

But in January 1965, Wilt returned home in a blockbuster trade.

Chamberlain played only three full seasons for the 76ers. But he was the NBA MVP in all of them. The franchise won its first title in Philadelphia in 1967. In 277 games, The Big Dipper averaged 27.6 points, 23.9 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game. In 1967–68, he was the first non-guard to lead the NBA in assists with 702. (He trailed Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson’s 9.7 per game, finishing with 8.6.)

Chamberlain asked out after the Boston Celtics upset Philadelphia in Game 7 of the Eastern Division FinalsThe Sixers traded him to the Los Angeles Lakers on July 9, 1968, where he played his final five seasons.

The club issued No. 13 once after Wilt’s departure, giving it to rookie guard Dave Wohl in 1971–72. According to Jeff Case of NBA.com, the number remained out of circulation until its official retirement on March 18, 1991.

Looking ahead at the stretch run for James Harden and the 76ers

Rather than his familiar No. 13, James Harden will wear No. 1 for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Rather than his familiar No. 13, James Harden will wear No. 1 for the Philadelphia 76ers. | Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

The Philadelphia 76ers reached the All-Star break with the third-best record in the Eastern Conference at 35–23. That’s 2.5 games behind the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls and tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Sixers have the tiebreaker advantage over the Cavs on the strength of their 103–93 victory on Feb. 12, but the teams meet three more times. Cleveland comes to Philadelphia again on March 4 before the 76ers visit Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on March 16 and April 3.

James Harden came to Philadelphia averaging 22.5 points, 10.2 assists, and 8.0 rebounds in 37.0 minutes in his 44 games with the Nets. His scoring average is his lowest since 2011–12, while his 47.6% mark from two-point range is the worst of his career since his first season.

He’s also making a career-low 33.2% from behind the arc. On paper, The Beard seems a perfect pick-and-roll partner with MVP favorite Joel Embiid, but Harden’s record of meshing with other stars is spotty at best.

According to a tweet from The Athletic’s Shams Charania, Harden would exercise his $47.3 million option for next season. But Kyle Neubeck of the Philly Voice reported via Twitter that didn’t happen.

Seeing James Harden in another jersey number after 13 NBA seasons will be odd. But we’ll adjust. After all, LeBron James has bounced back and forth between No. 23 and No. 6 a few times.

Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference. Contract information courtesy of Spotrac.

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