It’s been inevitable for quite a while that the Lakers would eventually hold a lavish retirement ceremony for the great Kobe Bryant shortly after he retires to hang his jersey up in the rafters at Staples Center.
Unlike most superstars who stay with one team their whole career, Bryant has the unique distinction of being great in two jerseys for a decade each over the last twenty years. So if you are the Lakers, which jersey do you retire No. 8, No. 24 or is it appropriate to retire both for the man who could quite possibly be the greatest player to ever wear a Lakers jersey?
“I don’t know the answer. Obviously it’s going to be 8, 24 or it could be both,” said Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak via the LA Times at a season ticket holder event Sunday.
As No. 8, in addition to winning three NBA titles along with Shaquille O’Neal, Bryant accomplished numerous of things which would make a career for most great players.
While wearing the single digit jersey to begin his Hall of Fame career, Bryant was able to win the first and only slam dunk contest he ever competed in during the 1997 All-Star weekend in Cleveland. He scored 81 points in a game against the Toronto Raptors and in January of 2006. Bryant became the only man other than Wilt Chamberlin to average over 40 points a game on a calendar month by averaging 43.5 points per a game for the eighth highest single month scoring average in NBA history.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t add also while wearing No. 8, Bryant became just the fifth player in league history to average at least 35 points in a season by averaging a career high 35.4 points per game and only the third player to score 45 points or more in four consecutive games. In December 2005 , he also became the only player in NBA history to outscore an entire team through three quarters by outscoring the Dallas Mavericks 62-61.
Bryant switched to No. 24 at being the 2006-2007 season but continued scoring, winning and being the best player in the NBA.
From a team perspective, as No. 24 Bryant was able to lead the Lakers to three consecutive NBA Finals appearances where they would go (2-1) but win back-to-back titles over the Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics in 2010.
Bryant recently admitted to the Boston media, the 2008 Finals loss to Boston is what motivated the Lakers to come back and win two more titles.
“I can’t remember the win without remembering the loss, and I say that in the most beautiful way possible,” Bryant said in a pre-game media session before his last game at TD Garden. “I don’t remember the loss as a painful experience or a horrible experience. I remember it as a beautiful moment because it helped me find the best version of myself and my teammates. I just remember the beauty of it. At the time, not so much.”
While winning back-to-back titles without Shaq, Bryant also won back-to-back NBA Finals MVP awards along to with his NBA regular season award he picked up in 2008 all while wearing No. 24.
Besides the titles and MVP awards the No. 24 version of Bryant would become the youngest player to score 20,000, 25,000 and 30,000 points in career, while also being named to the All-NBA First Team eight years in-a-row and to the All-NBA-Defensive First Team six consecutive years.
With the “Black Mamba” now 46 games away from calling it a career while wearing No. 24, I think it safe to say what Bryant has accomplished in each individual jersey by itself, is enough for one person to garner Hall of Fame enshrinement. So in my humble opinion retiring both jerseys is the only proper way to honor the great 20-year career Kobe has had in order to encompass everything he has done.
If Michael Jordan can be the first person get his jersey retired by the Miami Heat, a franchise he never even played for, why can’t Kobe be the first to have two jerseys retired by the same franchise?