The Magical and Mysterious 21.
21. My favorite number. What a funny thing to say, A favorite number? Yet we all have one. When you read ‘My favorite number,’ I bet yours popped in to your head. But, why do we develop such strong affectations to certain numbers?
The simple answer is it’s ingrained in our cultures, but those vary drastically across the globe. In North America, the UK, France, and the Netherlands, 7 is considered a lucky number, and is in fact the most popular favorite number. Early factors in our culture for this are mostly Biblical. 7 is considered the heavenly number, God took 7 days to create the heavens and the earth, and the 7 deadly sins (and we all have the desire for sin). Then, there are the 7 wonders of the ancient world and the 7 planets of the ancient world. In modern times, this disposition is only exacerbated by our society’s proclivity toward gambling. Three 7’s wins you the jackpot on a majority of slot machines, and 7 is a natural in craps.
Lucky Numbers Around the World
In other countries, favorite or lucky numbers differ for other reasons. China, Japan, and Korea believe 8 is a lucky number because in each the character for 8 and for prosper/wealth are pronounced almost identically. When China hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics Games they began on 8/8/08 at 8:08.08pm. Transversely, those cultures don’t like the number 4 because it pronounced like death.
3 is also a popular favorite number in many countries. It is considered the perfect number. Across many faiths, 3 has many positive connotations. In Christianity there is The Holy Trinity, Jesus arose from the dead on the third day, and His ministry on Earth lasted 3 years. Judaism has The Three Patriarchs, three daily prayers, Shabbat has three meals and ends when three stars are visable in the sky, and the Three Pilgrimage Festivals. The Triple Bodhi and The Three Jewels are staples of Buddhism, as is the Trimurti to Hinduism. And of course, School House Rock taught us that 3 is a magic number.
As an aside, 13 is almost universally considered a bad luck number. There were 13 people at the Last Supper. Friday the 13th is considered unlucky because on Friday, October 13, 1307, King Philip IV of France ordered the arrest of the Knights Templar, most of whom
The Original Friday the 13th
were killed or tortured or both. When Gregorian monks created their calendar, it was difficult for them to account for the years that had 13 full moons which developed bad connotations for the number.
However, I think the development for a favorite number is much more personal. As a young kid, I developed a love for sports, and my first love was baseball. Growing up in the south, baseball was never more readily available anywhere than on WTBS The Superstation out of Atlanta, which carried all of their hometown Braves’ games. I watched religiously and worshiped Dale Murphy. This was at the time when he won back-to-back NL MVP Awards. His jersey number was 3. If you had asked six-year-old “Little Richard” (my dad’s name is Richard, as well, hence the little) what his favorite number was, he would say 3. I had to have it for my t-ball number because, of course, I was going to be just like Dale Murphy.
The Amazing Dale Murphy
I also had another reason for liking 3 that is a major one for a lot of people. My birthday is October 3rd. When mathematician Alex Bellos did a study on favorite numbers, he discovered that a majority of people pick a favorite number based on dates that are significant to them. That also played a significant role in my choice of 21. My mom was born on May 21st and my younger brother was born on November 21st. As a child, when two of the three most important people in your life something like that in common, it can be a strong factor in your opinion on a subject.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell how or when you became a fan of something. But, when it comes to basketball, I can tell you the exact date, Sunday, February 12, 1984. As a youngster in Northwest Arkansas, there wasn’t any other team to cheer for other than the Arkansas Razorbacks. We lived and breathed cardinal and white. My first ever published piece is a memoir about watching the 1994 NCAA Basketball Championship with my dad. The Razorback basketball team had some success in the late 70’s and early 80’s, even going to the NCAA Final Four in 1978, but I was only 2 when that happened.
Balentine’s Floater Lifts the Razorbacks Over the #1 ranked North Carolina Tar Heels.
On that Sunday, the Razorbacks were playing the North Carolina Tar Heels, the number 1 ranked team in college basketball and led by 5 future 1st round NBA picks including Michael Jordan. When they came to Barton Coliseum in Pine Bluff to play the Razorbacks, they were undefeated at 19-0, but they would not leave that way. Charles Balentine sunk an arching, ten-foot jumper to beat North Carolina, 65-64. The game was broadcast nationally by NBC and I watched with my dad. I’m not sure I fully understood what a monumental victory it was at the time (it was Arkansas’ first win over a #1 ranked team in history), but my dad sure was excited about it, so I was as well.
Later that week, I got to meet Charles Balentine. My student teacher in Mrs. Walker’s 2nd grade class was friends with him at the university, and she convinced him to come visit us. I was in total awe of him. I started watching Razorback basketball any time I could, but I quickly switched favorite players on the team to the more flashy and savvy Alvin Robertson. He was the leader of that team, and even with my limited knowledge at the time, I could tell he was special. His defensive prowess was unrivaled. He went on to win the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award 3 times and still holds the career record for steals per game. His jersey number was 21.
Blackjack, or 21 as my grandpa called it.
But, probably the most personal reason has to do with the game Blackjack and the man who taught me how to play. My Grandpa Howk and I had a special relationship when it came to two of my favorite activities, sports and card games. I can still picture him today sitting in his mustard yellow chair at the kitchen table playing solitaire. The Sylvania 19″ TV in the living room was set at just the right angle so he could watch through the doorway between the two rooms. He usually just wore what we would now call a wife-beater tank top shirt, comfortable slacks, worn out loafers, and horn-rimmed glasses so he could see the cards.
We would spend hours at that dining table, playing cards and talking about sports. But, my favorite game with him was Blackjack, or as he called it, 21. He would be the dealer and my dad, brother, uncle, and occasionally my cousins would try to beat him. We didn’t play with chips or money, but with pride. If you could say you beat grandpa at cards, that was a big deal.He would always smile when we would win and tell us that we’d get him the next hand if we didn’t.
I lost my grandpa on July 4, 1990. He had battled with emphysema as long as I can remember and finally succumbed. I was 14 at the time and his was the first death of someone that was close to me that I had ever faced. He probably never would have thought what effect playing those little games with me as a kid would have, but it truly has shaped my world. Including the love of 21.