ABBOTSFORD — On a team of athletes, there is nothing more utilitarian than the number assigned to each player’s jersey.
It’s a stamp of identification for purposes of record, whether for points scored, penalties taken or in most instances, the simple act of participation.
Yet ask the athletes themselves about their true sum value, and quite suddenly we discover they can mean exponentially more.
About a month-and-a-half ago, I asked some student-athletes on local teams if they have their own jersey number stories to share.
So today, we debut with three just such snapshots from the Fraser Valley Cascades men’s basketball team in Abbotsford.
Kyle Claggett, Jordyn Sekhon and Ahmad Athman will all be wearing their numbers with pride Friday and Saturday as the Cascades open the 2021-22 Canada West basketball season by hosting UBC Okanagan (8 p.m.) and then UNBC (7 p.m.) on respective days at the UFV Athletic Centre.
For as long as he’s played team sports, Kyle Claggett’s jerseys have always had the same number, and to him, it will always carry the deepest of family connections.
“My dad’s favourite hockey player growing up was Guy Lafleur,” he says of his father Mike’s devotion to the Montreal Canadiens’ all-time leading points-getter and the No. 1 overall pick in the 1971 amateur draft.
“So growing up, No. 10 is the only number that me and my sister ever wore,” he says, making sure to include older sister Taylor, the 2020 UFV grad whose own basketball career in Cascades’ colours concluded as the Canada West’s all-time leader in free throws in a season (145), free throws in a career (521), and career minutes per game (33.9).
“Every sport we ever played, we both wore No. 10,” Claggett adds with a chuckle. “If someone got it before us, we’d end up paying them to get the number. So my dad was the mastermind behind No. 10 and he’s always been there to make sure we got it. “
As an example, when Taylor Claggett arrived at UFV as a freshman, she discovered that a fifth-year senior was already in ownership of the number in question.
Kyle Claggett estimates that it took somewhere between $250-300 to liberate it, allowing his sister to rep the family tradition over the rest of her career.
And you can’t argue with the results.
Taylor Claggett left as the all-time leading scorer in Cascades’ women’s history with 1,474 points.
When Claggett himself came to the team in 2020-21, he had to cut a deal with former teammate Dhivaan Bhogal to get No. 10.
The bond with No. 10, Guy Lafleur and the Canadiens is so strong in the Claggett family that Mike and Kyle made a father-son pilgrimage to Montreal for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals last spring, watching the Habs win their only game of the series on an overtime goal by Josh Anderson.
“We’re both die-hard Montreal fans, and he is a diehard Lafleur fan, and the last Stanley Cup they were in was ’93,” begins Kyle. “So it was pretty cool going on a trip to Montreal with my dad. He’s got a Habs’ logo tattooed on him. And I’ve got a No. 10 tattooed on my ankle.”
Toronto Basketball Academy
First-year Cascades’ guard Ahmad Athman remembers playing on his first rep basketball team, back when he was only 10 years old, and being asked by his coach what number he’d like to wear.
There was something about the No. 5 that immediately resonated with him, but the coach told all the players to go home and sleep on their decision.
All these years later, as the Oshawa native has made his way across the country and prepares to suit up for his first Canada West conference game on Friday, he has come to understand the significance of the number to him as a talisman of sorts, and a constant reminder that he’s kept his family close at hand at all times.
“I remember being back home that night and asking my mom what number to be, and she told me No. 5 because we have five people in our family,” he said in reflection of himself, mom Zainab, dad Majid, older brother Shuaib, 27, and sister Shareefa, 25.
“Every time I think about it, I’ve got five on my back… I got my family on my back… and that’s why I’ve stuck with No. 5 on every team I’ve played on. I don’t know how else to explain it.”
And the Oshawa native Athman knows his family will be sharing those sentiments every time they watch him play via live-stream this season.
“It’s tough being away from home… it’s tough,” he begins. “I know I am playing for them, it’s all I think about, all the time they put in. My mom is my rock.”
This is a story about a father, his son, and the numbers they have shared not only with each other, but with NBA greats Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Julius Erving.
Jordyn Sekhon started his basketball journey as a young boy, coveting and eventually wearing No. 23 because it was the number of Michael Jordan, his father Baljit Sekhon’s favourite player back in his youthful days of the mid-1980s.
But as is often the case as kids grow older, they begin to make their own choices, and that is one of the interesting parts of the a jersey number change a young Jordyn would make as he made his way through elementary school.
“Growing up my dad was the biggest Michael Jordan fan, so I wore No. 23, and when I got to around Grade 5, that’s when LeBron got big and I was a huge fan,” Jordyn Sekhon says of the player who is the MJ of his generation.
Yet when James joined the Miami Heat for the 2010-11 season, he switched from No. 23 to No. 6, prompting a young Sekhon to do the same.
James, of course, has had a back-and-forth love affair with the two numbers, and has recently returned to No. 6 with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Sekhon eventually got back to the same No. 23 as his idol at Mouat Secondary, yet when he started his U SPORTS career at UFV he realized that number was not available.
So he went back to No. 6.
“But then something crazy happened,” Sekhon relates.
“In my second year of university, I just happened to be back in Quesnel,” he explains of paying a trip Correlieu Secondary, the place his dad Baljit starred on the court and helped lead the school to the top-tiered B.C. AAA championship tournament in the spring of 1987.
“I ended up looking at this old picture of him and he just happens to be wearing No. 6,” says Sekhon says of his dad.
“I asked him about it, and he told me that he wore it because it was Julius Erving’s number,” he added of the famed Philadelphia 76ers superstar known as Dr. J. “What a cool story.”
Indeed, a son pays homage to his father’s favourite player by wearing the No. 23 jersey of Michael Jordan. As he grows and become his own person, he begins an homage of his own with LeBron James and his two favourite numbers.
Then, without ever knowing what his dad’s high school number was, he returns to it as a university student-athlete before inadvertently discovering he has come full circle within the sport the two have shared for Sekhon’s entire life.
No. 6 in your program, but No. 1 in the hearts of the basketball gods.
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