How Denzel Valentine ended up wearing Michael Jordan's other number with the Chicago Bulls

'The Last Dance' first look: MJ returns wearing No. 45 (1:06)

After a 21-month hiatus from basketball, Michael Jordan returned to the Bulls, sporting No. 45 and sparking a new beginning. Episodes 7 and 8 of "The Last Dance" debut at 9 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN. (1:06)

Shortly after his son was drafted by the Chicago Bulls with the No. 14 overall pick in 2016, Denzel Valentine's father thought he should deliver a dose of reality.

"I'm like, 'S---, they ain't gon' let you wear 45, bro,'" Carlton Valentine said, referring to his son's jersey number at Michigan State. "So he got drafted on a Thursday. That Monday was his press conference. They had a No. 45 waiting for him, and I'm like, 'Aw s---, OK. This is serious.' There was no way I thought he was getting 45 because of Jordan."

Michael Jordan played just 22 games in that unfamiliar No. 45 jersey during his return to the NBA in 1995 after a brief retirement, which will be covered in Episode 8 of "The Last Dance" (10 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN and the ESPN app). He switched back to his famous No. 23 during the playoffs that year and stuck with it for the remainder of his NBA career with the Bulls and Washington Wizards.

Jordan donned the No. 45 -- first during his brief foray into baseball, then after his return to the Bulls -- as a nod to his father, James. Jordan initially vowed to never wear No. 23 again because it was the last number that his father saw him play in before he was shot to death by two teenagers in North Carolina in 1993.

Like Jordan, Denzel Valentine wears No. 45 in honor of his father, who played at Michigan State from 1984 to '88. When Denzel committed to following in his father's footsteps as a Spartan, Carlton was under the impression that Denzel would wear the same number as Draymond Green -- coincidentally, the No. 23 made famous by Jordan. However, Denzel had a surprise plan, one that was spoiled by Green himself shortly after he was drafted in 2012.

Green had connected with the Valentine family through their associations in the Michigan high school and AAU scenes even before Denzel began considering Michigan State. One morning, after Green and Carlton Valentine had both completed their workouts at Michigan Athletic Club in East Lansing, Michigan, Green sat in the sauna with Carlton.

"Denzel is about to wear your number," Carlton told Green.

"Naw, Denzel ain't wearing my number," Green responded.

"What you talkin' bout?"

"Denzel is wearing 45."

Instead of immediately confirming the news with his son, Carlton waited to see it for himself. At Michigan State's Midnight Madness later that fall, Denzel came onto the court wearing the No. 45 his father had worn nearly two decades earlier.

"I was sobbing uncontrollably," Carlton said. "For him to wear 45 at Michigan State, that's the highest honor that a son can tell his father that, 'Hey, I'm going to wear your number.' I was sitting there crying uncontrollably. I'm not going to lie."

Carlton Valentine originally chose No. 45 in honor of his late mother's birth year and because it was the number worn by his favorite player, Adrian Dantley, who, like Carlton, attended DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland.

For Denzel Valentine, the ability to carry on the family tradition even after finishing his four-year career at Michigan State meant a lot, especially after he earned All-American and AP Player of the Year honors while wearing the number as a senior.

"My dad wore it in college, so I kinda wanted to wear No. 45 just to show appreciation for him in college, and then it just stuck with me after college," Denzel said. "I had a great career in it, so I was like, 'I'm not about to change my number,' and it just so happened to be with the Bulls, and MJ had No. 45. It just worked out like that, but it was because of my dad."

Although Jordan wore 45 for only 22 games, the number is still associated with him in Chicago, though the team has not given serious consideration to retiring it. Before Valentine began wearing it in 2016, only three Bulls had worn No. 45 since Jordan -- Paul Shirley, Luke Schenscher and Rasual Butler -- and none for more than a single season. That trio combined to wear the number for 33 games; Valentine surpassed that total as a rookie and has now worn No. 45 for all 170 of his games as a Bull.

"I felt like mostly everybody was supportive," Denzel said of his choice to wear No. 45. "It was probably about 80% of the people supportive and probably 20% that were like, 'Why did you do that? Why did you take MJ's number? Blah, blah, blah.' But I didn't have a lot of people that were hating on me, to be honest."

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, like Jordan, spent time playing baseball, having grown up as the son of Donovan Mitchell Sr., who spent seven years in the Astros' minor league system and now serves as the director of player relations and community affairs for the New York Mets. Mitchell wears No. 45 because of his dual-sport connection to Jordan.

"He's the greatest basketball player of all time, and he always will be," Mitchell told reporters in Charlotte ahead of the 2019 NBA Rising Stars Game.

It is Jordan's status as the GOAT that has made his No. 45 jersey a mainstay in Chicago to this day -- and that has led to some moments of confusion for Carlton Valentine.

"I'll see somebody from the front, and I'm like, 'Aw, they've got on Denzel's jersey,' but then they turn around, and I'm like, 'Nah, that's a Jordan jersey,'" Carlton said with a laugh. "I mean, it's only one Michael Jordan, but for them to allow Denzel to wear the number, they must've thought pretty highly of him in order to say, 'Hey, you can wear this number.'"