Kobe Bryant’s career is now over, so it’s time to dive headfirst into the glorious world of basketball nerdom. Most of the impending eulogies upon his retirement focused on questions like where Kobe ranks all time and whether he’s the greatest player to ever wear a Lakers uniform.
But there’s another piece of business that needed deciding as well: which jersey number should hang in the rafters? No. 8, or No. 24.
The Lakers made their choice: both.
Update. BOTH of Kobe's numbers will be retired.
— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) September 12, 2017
Kobe wore No. 8 through the 2006 season, then switched to No. 24 as a homage to his 24/7 work ethic. Back in 2016, then-general manager Mitch Kupchack has already hinted that team might cop out and retire both numbers. Ultimately, they did just that.
It’s understandable why. This isn’t like Michael Jordan donning the number 45 for a half-season. Bryant has worn each number for 10 years, making multiple All-Star teams and winning championships in both uniforms. The 10-year tenures are remarkably similar.
But unlike the Lakers, we don’t believe in cop outs. Here are the résumés for each numbers, the cases for and against each, and a final decision.
No. 8 (’96-’06)
23.9 points per game
45-percent fiel goal shooting
5.1 rebounds per game
4.5 assists per game
1.5 steals per game
2.9 turnovers per game
34 percent three-point shooting
22.2 average PER
3 NBA Titles
4 Western Conference titles
9 playoff appearances
8 All-Star selections
4 time All-NBA first team
2 time All-NBA second team
2 time All-NBA third team
6 All-Defense selections
1 scoring title
1 All-Star Game MVP award
1 time Slam Dunk champion
The case for No. 8
This decade of basketball contains a complete narrative arc on its own: the Slam Dunk title that propelled Bryant into the public’s conscious, the dynasty year with Shaquille O’Neal and Phil Jackson, the otherworldly individual seasons where he carried teams featuring renown talents like Smush Parker and Slava Medvedenko to the playoffs.
No. 8 won three championships, and it’s these teams that are most glorified and remembered. It wasn’t just the wins. It was the 15-1 run through the playoffs in 2001 and the epic battles and victories over stacked squads like the Spurs, Blazers and Kings.
The No. 8-Shaq-Phil teams were the type of champions that get books written and movies made. Kobe wasn’t the sole responsible party, but he had a major hand.
The case for No. 8 is most compelling because of the ridiculous individual numbers Kobe put up after O’Neal was dealt to the Heat. He averaged 35.4 points per game in 2006 and dropped 81 one night against the Raptors. No. 8 only missed the playoffs once and only missed 81 games in 10 years. Kobe No. 8 was also a much better and more active defender than No. 24.
Kobe No. 8 finished his career with Hall of Fame individual numbers to go along with all that team success. Add in the glorious fro and you have an even more compelling case.
The case against No. 8
For all the good in No. 8’s career, there was also plenty of bad, on and off the court. The battles with Shaq short-circuited the Lakers’ dynasty. The last game of the No. 8 era ended with Kobe pouting in the Game 7 against the Suns in 2006 while taking just three shot attempts in the second half.
We must also mention the sexual assault allegations in 2003 as a black mark on Kobe’s career.
No. 24 (’06-’16)
26.2 points per game
44-percent field goal shooting
5.3 rebounds per game
5.0 assists per game
1.3 steals per game
3.1 turnovers per game
32 percent three-point shooting
2 NBA titles
3 Western Conference titles
10 All-Star game appearances
1 MVP Award
2 finals MVP awards
7 All-NBA first team
6 All-Defense selections
1 scoring title
3 All-Star Game MVP awards
The case for No. 24
No. 24 captured two titles, and there was no question who The Man was on those teams. Bryant’s athleticism might have started to slip after switching to No. 24 before the 2006-07 season, but his game remained as effective as ever. Some would say No. 24 was even more fun to watch. The impeccable footwork, jab steps, Olajuwon-esque post moves and textbook mid-range jumpers were basketball porn to those who find the action below the rim more entertaining.
No. 24 was named First Team All-NBA an incredible seven times. He was also just a few bounces away from matching No. 8’s three-peat.
All in all, Bryant was just more a fun basketball player and person to watch when wearing No. 24, at least until the injuries hit towards the end of his career.
The case against No. 24
No. 24 didn’t get off to a great start. After the Lakers were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs in 2007, Kobe went on Stephen A. Smith’s radio show and said he wanted to be traded. The Lakers were open to the possibility, too. If not for the serendipitous Pau Gasol trade, who knows how Kobe’s late career would have played out?
But the primary case against No. 24 is everything that’s gone on in Lakerland over the past three years. Kobe has looked like a shell of himself since a torn Achilles to end the 2012-13 season. Before that, he clashed with Dwight Howard and may have sabotaged numerous other Lakers free agent pursuits, according to reports.
When he managed to make it on the court, Kobe has statistically been one of the worst players in the league over the past three seasons. That, plus his and insistence on being the No. 1 option despite his eroding skills, has dragged the Lakers into the gutter and transformed them into the West’s version of the Knicks.
This is a tough one and could go either way, but the Lakers should have retired Bryant’s No. 8.
That’s the number that was on his uniform when he turned into Kobe, the player known by the world for his unique style, flare and personality. The years as No, 24 were great, but No. 8 is the uniform that set the foundation and started Bryant on the journey of becoming a transcendent star.
Better that than the cop-out of doing both.
Text by Yaron Weitzman. Graphic by Brittany Cheng. This piece was originally published on April 12, 2016.