by Moxye Staff
Although Kobe Bryant has been asked many times, he still isn’t sure who would win a mystical game of one-on-one between the young Kobe in his No. 8 Lakers jersey and his older self, who wore No. 24.
Ever since Bryant’s retirement in 2016, when he went out with 60 points in his final game, there has been a friendly debate about which jersey number deserved to be retired. The stats are remarkably similar — Bryant scored more with No. 24 but won one additional championship with No. 8.
“I kind of go back and forth,” Bryant said with a sly grin. “But 8 has something that 24 will never, ever, ever have, and that’s the ability to grow hair.”
Kobe ascended to greatness as No. 8. He won three titles in that uniform, and one night in January of 2006, he sliced up the Toronto Raptors for 81 points.
That offseason, he switched to his old number from high school, No. 24, which helps mark the trajectory of his career.
No. 24 did it without Shaquille O’Neal, delivering two more titles to Jerry Buss, the last one coming in a sublime seven-game series against the rival Boston Celtics.
Bryant understandably feels more ownership over No. 24, much like an adolescent who changes his or her name. He’s also donned the triple-eight for many of his career milestones, such as passing the late, great Wilt Chamberlain for fourth on the all-time scoring list.
In the end, what Kobe wants, Kobe gets. His No. 24 will take its place among the franchise’s other legendary jerseys, though it hopefully won’t be backwards like Shaq‘s.
Regardless of which jersey Bryant wants hung up, no Laker is likely to wear either number ever again.
The Lakers couldn’t choose, either. So they honored both eras of Kobe’s incredible career.
In an NBA first, the Lakers on Monday night retired both jersey numbers worn by Bryant, the leading scorer in franchise history.
Bryant’s two jerseys will become the 10th and 11th jerseys retired jersey for the 16-time NBA champion Lakers.His numbers were revealed high on the Staples Center wall, flanking the banner honoring Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn. The other nine are Wilt Chamberlain’s 13, Elgin Baylor’s 22, Gail Goodrich’s 25, Magic Johnson’s 32, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 33, Shaquille O’Neal’s 34, James Worthy’s 42, Jerry West’s 44, and Jamaal Wilkes’ 52.
Bryant attended the Lakers’ game against the Golden State Warriors for a halftime ceremony at Staples Center, which was packed with fans eager to bear witness once again to the beloved superstar scorer. Dozens of Bryant’s former teammates showed up, including Shaquille O’Neal and Derek Fisher, along with the Lakers’ usual cavalcade of celebrity fans.
“I feel great,” Bryant said after entering Staples Center while pushing a stroller containing Bianka Bella Bryant, his infant daughter. “I’m very proud I get to come here with my family. It feels good as a father to have my family come in and share this.”
“It’s not about the jerseys that are hanging up there for me,” Bryant told the cheering crowd. “It’s about the jerseys that were hanging up there before. They inspired me to play the game at a high level.”
Magic Johnson and Lakers owner Jeanie Buss gave brief tributes to Bryant at halftime, with Magic boldly declaring, “We’re here to celebrate the greatest who ever wore the purple and gold.”
Buss cleverly explained the reasoning behind the Lakers’ decision to hang two jersey numbers for Bryant: “If you separated each of the accomplishments under those numbers, each of those players would qualify for the Hall of Fame.”
“I thank you for staying loyal to the purple and gold and remaining a Laker for life when it might have been easier for you to leave,” Buss added.
Along with Bryant’s 33,643 points, the five-time NBA champion and 18-time All-Star selection also leads the Lakers in games played (1,346), 3-pointers (1,827), steals (1,944) and free throws (8,378). Bryant is the third-leading scorer in league history.