Hey there Buffalo Rumblings readers! One of the perks of the content creator world is that there are occasionally opportunities you don’t expect. For example, getting the chance for an early look at a book and the ability to talk with part of the team that put it together. Getting right to it, I encourage fans of the Buffalo Bills and sports fans in general to check out “Got Your Number: The Greatest Sports Legends and the Numbers They Own” — which is available now.
“Got Your Number” was written by Mike Greenberg and researched by Paul Hembekides. You may know both from a variety of places, most notably perhaps from ESPN’s “Get Up” or “Greeny” on ESPN radio. For the short version, “Got Your Number” takes each number from one to 100 and assigns a sports legend as the “owner” of each. It’s not quite as simple as the best player to wear that number though. I’ll tell you a bit more about the book in just a moment, but first the cover graphic and an apology.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Hembekides as part of his interview tour for the book. We had just over 13 minutes of conversation where Hembekides eloquently talked about the project and frankly I had a blast listening to him.
Unfortunately, something happened with the recording. It dumped all of Hembekides’ audio, made mine wonky, and made the video unusable. This was supposed to be an episode of Bills Mathia, with the connection to numbers and all. And I think it would have been a great episode for what it’s worth. The next best thing I guess is to recap the conversation to the best of my recollection and tell you more about the book along the way.
As you’d expect, we began with Hembekides talking about the book a bit. Each number has a short chapter dedicated to explaining why each legend deserves to be called the owner. Hembekides explained the care in using the term “legend” rather than player, indicating that many of the numbers were assigned due to records, or year. This allowed them to broaden the conversation to sports like golf where the athletes don’t wear jersey numbers or in one legendary case an animal with no use for clothing.
I wanted to know more about how Mike Greenberg and Paul Hembekides landed on the format. The book expertly balances easy reference and in-depth history dive. If I’m looking to see who owns number 50 for instance, I can quickly flip to that page to find the who, but I’m also greeted with a short but thorough dive into the legend’s history. Hembekides indicated the entire process was deliberate, and explained how he scoured for information and Mike would put the final essays together.
Knowing our conversation was intended for an audience of Bills fans, I asked what Hembekides might tell potential readers who tend to love a single sport or team. Hembekides described what I personally felt as I read “Got Your Number.” Specifically that the flow of the book lends itself well to readers who may only want a quick bit of information as they dive in and out of the book at their leisure. Or if you’re like me, you may sit down to skim and find yourself having read the whole thing before you know it. Hembekides mused that it’s their hope their format could be a template for sports books in the future.
Naturally, I read the book with the eye of a Bills fan and Western New York native. With a few spoilers authorized, I was wondering if Hembekides had noticed anything odd like a coincidental pattern I had noticed. Numbers 81, 83, 85, and 87 all have a solid connection to the Bills or WNY. Hembekides didn’t have any other quirks like that but wanted to assure the audience that great care was taken to avoid bias or overrepresentation. More mini-spoilers here, but Hembekides mentioned that despite Mike Greenberg being one of the world’s biggest New York Jets fans and Hembekides being a fan of the Philadelphia Eagles, there are no representatives of the Jets in the book and he felt the Eagles weren’t strongly represented either.
Hembekides was kind enough to indulge me in a bit of a loaded question. In the spirit of the fact that the book is intended to encourage debate, I asked if there were any second guesses now that the book was in print and their legends locked in. Hembekides asked if I meant do-overs or something different. I clarified that it could be a do-over, or situations where they had been on the fence and hadn’t entirely moved off of it.
Hembekides approached this from the time period of when the book was being written, versus when we had the conversation in April, 2023. There was great care in making sure the legends chosen would have an enduring legacy to the sports world. With that said, if the book were being written now, Hembekides felt that number 15 may have gone to Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes instead of the legend who did make it into the book. Hembekides added that number 61 is owned by Roger Maris for his 61 home runs in 1961. “Got Your Number” adds that the record stood in the American League for 61 years. Hembekides remarked that Aaron Judge could have been considered for 62 for being the one to dethrone Maris in 2022 with 62 home runs.
That was my last question for Paul Hembekides, but he had a couple for me. With the spirit of debate that the book embraces, Hembekides wanted to know which number in the book was the one I disagreed with most strongly. While I didn’t have a good legend to replace the one that irked me, I went with 87 as the one that bugged me the most, citing that New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is a Western New York representative and tormented our Buffalo Bills for so long. Showing how in tune he is with the sports world, Hembekides gave a good substitute with zero hesitation. Pittsburgh Penguins legend Sidney Crosby could have made a strong claim for the number 87.
We wrapped up with Hembekides asking me which legend caught my attention most that I wasn’t necessarily expecting. Having three kids and two daughters, I mentioned that I’m attuned to how difficult things can be for women in sports. Earlier in the conversation I had quickly mentioned that I had encouraged my youngest daughter to read up on the legend claiming number 50, and I went back to that as my answer for this question. The section on Rebecca Lobo was captivating and the one that grabbed my attention more than any other in the book.
Hembekides mentioned how he sought to go beyond stats with his research and pointed out the impact of Rebecca Lobo’s Hall of Fame acceptance speech. While we were talking, Hembekides was flipping through a copy of the book he had at the ready and wanted to share the passage that came from this with the Buffalo Rumblings audience. I sincerely wish you could hear Hembekides read this; but I’ll transcribe it instead:
“It has been my privilege to know Rebecca Lobo over many years as a colleague at ESPN, but of all the stories I have heard her tell, my favorite came from her Hall of Fame acceptance speech. One night, she said, she and her husband were at home watching the UConn men play, when their daughter, four years old, came into the living room. The young girl looked at the television with a puzzled expression and said, ‘I didn’t know boys play basketball.’”
My apologies again to Paul Hembekides and to my audience for the technical difficulties. This recap doesn’t do the conversation the justice it deserves. I feel fortunate to have spent time with Paul and I’m ever thankful for the opportunity to read “Got Your Number.” Do yourself a favor and pick a copy up — it’s a fantastic read and sure to inspire numerical debate among anyone who enjoys sports history.