Jefferson switches to No. 7

Originally Published: March 2, 2005
Associated Press

BOSTON -- Antoine Walker returned to the Boston parquet Wednesday night and got a welcome back gift from one of his new teammates: The No. 8 he wore in his first go-round with the Celtics.

Al Jefferson, a rookie who has worn the number this season, agreed to give it up to the team's former captain -- no charge. Players frequently extract gifts or cash for trading numbers, but Jefferson said he was more interested in a basketball tutorial.

"I said, 'Take me under your wing,"' Jefferson said. "I'm a good person. It's not all about the money."

Walker played seven years with the Celtics before he was traded to Dallas nine days before the 2003 opener. The Mavericks sent him to Atlanta last summer and Walker was reacquired by the Celtics at the NBA trading deadline last week.

Walker wore No. 88 for his first two games with Boston -- both on the road. The NBA has a policy against changing numbers midseason, but waivers are granted; Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala gave up No. 4 after Chris Webber was traded to the 76ers.

Jefferson's high school number, 25, has been retired by the Celtics in honor of K.C. Jones. Jefferson switched to No. 7 on Wednesday night because he is a fan of Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal.

"If you think about my high school number, two plus five equals seven, right?" Jefferson said.

Walker, who was far from beloved when he last played for the Celtics, was introduced last before the game against the Los Angeles Lakers to a standing ovation. The scoreboard had him with a No. 8 in one place and a No. 88 in another; when he took off his warmup jersey to reveal his old number, there was no reaction from the fans who were already in a frenzy.

On Dec. 3, 1987, Boston Bruins defenseman Ray Bourque pulled off a No. 7 jersey to reveal one with a No. 77, giving up the one he had been wearing so the team could properly retire it in honor of Phil Esposito. The moment is remembered as one of the most poignant in the city's sports history.

This didn't rank up there with that, but for the Celtics fans in attendance it was a special treat -- and it was even better that it came against the Lakers, a longtime rival. The game was Boston's fifth sellout of the year; the previous four were for opening night, Cleveland's LeBron James, the defending champion Detroit Pistons and for Walker's visit with the Hawks.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press