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The meaning behind Jae Crowder’s No. 99 Utah Jazz uniform

SALT LAKE CITY — Only one player in the NBA wears No. 99.

He’s the newest member of the Utah Jazz and his name is Jae Crowder.

“It’s pretty cool,” Crowder said. “Hopefully people will catch on to it and like the number because it’s a unique thing and it means something to me, so it’s kind of special.”

The meaning behind it?

His best friend, Eric Thompson.

Throughout high school and college, Crowder wore No. 32 in honor of Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson but switched to No. 9 after leaving Marquette for the NBA.

“I would’ve never thought I would go to 99,” Crowder admitted.

He spent his first few seasons in Dallas before being traded to the Boston Celtics during the 2014-15 season as part of the deal that sent Rajon Rondo to the Mavericks. The change from No. 9 to 99 occurred then.

“When I got traded from Dallas, my best friend was wearing No. 99,” Crowder recalled. “I was No. 9 and going to Boston, so I didn’t want to take Rajon Rondo’s number out of respect to him so I decided to put a No. 9 on it just like my best friend.”

Thompson is also from Crowder’s hometown of Villa Rica, Georgia, and attended Villa Rica High School. He wore No. 99 on the gridiron as a defensive lineman at Faulkner University. Although he no longer plays, Crowder still brings that gridiron toughness and mindset to the hardwood with the odd number.

“People ask me what it’s for all the time, because it’s got to be a meaning behind it obviously, but it’s pretty cool just to keep it going for him every time I touch the floor and then put it on my shoes every time I get a chance,” Crowder said.

As the Utah Jazz try to regain their rhythm since returning from the All-Star break with a 1-1 record, Crowder is still learning his way around Salt Lake City and Jazz coach Quin Snyder’s thick playbook. He posted 11 points and three rebounds in Utah’s 97-90 win against Dallas Saturday night, including four points in the final four minutes to help the Jazz close the game on a 12-3 run. The Jazz will host the Houston Rockets on Monday at 7 p.m.

“I think defensively, he’s more than anything just getting familiar with the communication system,” Snyder said. “The main thing is being unselfish and compete and he’s ready to do both those things and he’s done that so far.”

Crowder is quickly becoming a fan favorite in Utah with five consecutive games of scoring double figures since being acquired in a three-team deal from Cleveland before the trade deadline.

He averages 13.2 points and 4.0 rebounds in 28.4 minutes off the bench, while shooting 40.4 percent from the field.

His No. 99 jersey is even for sale inside Vivint Arena, but he knows he has more work to do until he gets fully comfortable.

“I’m still struggling to shoot the ball, still got to get my wind, still got to get comfortable within the offense to know where my shots are coming from,” Crowder said. “But that comes with time so I’m being patient with that, but I feel like I just want to do something other than score the ball to help our team win games every night.”