By Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley
Special to the AFRO
The Los Angeles Lakers will proudly retire both of Kobe Bryant’s jersey numbers on Dec. 18, 2017 during halftime of their home game against the Golden State Warriors. Bryant famously wore No. 8 during his first 10 years before switching to No. 24 and closing his career out 10 years afterward. While players can sometimes make a jersey number special, Bryant made both numbers memorable. Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley, of the AFRO Sports Desk, debate which version was better.
Riley: The Bryant that donned No. 8 was the younger and more athletic version, winning three titles along the way at the side of Shaquille O’Neal. That version was menacing, and it’s the same one that dropped 81 points in a single game, stamping him as officially one of the best scorers of all time. The No. 8 version had the mini Afro and a knack for stealing the thunder away from the league’s megastars like Michael Jordan and even Shaq at times. The No. 8 version wasn’t the most favored of the two but he was the best player on the court every time he stepped out.
Kobe Bryant’s two jersey numbers will reportedly ascent to the rafters at Staples Center in Los Angeles in December. (Mark Weber, Mark J. Terrill/AP)
Green: No. 24 is the Kobe version that took home a league MVP trophy and won a ring without Shaq there to share the glory. The No. 24 Kobe is really when the comparisons to Jordan really began to sink in for me because he was hoisting an entire franchise on his shoulders at that point. The spring in the jump wasn’t the same but the skill set at that point had evolved enough to carry him through, even without the athleticism. He became an ambassador with No. 24 as opposed to just Shaq’s bratty sidekick who would selfishly steal the show and alienate his talented teammates.
Riley: The first half of Bryant’s career was constantly met with criticism and advice on how he should be a better teammate. His demeanor off the court and in the locker room overshadowed his on-court greatness, but we’re not talking about Bryant as a teammate, only as a player. And, he was better as No. 8. The athleticism allowed him to go toe-to-toe with guys like Allen Iverson, but his basketball smarts aided him to three titles along the way. Let us not forget he was also a rapper as No. 8. That feat alone places special emphasis on the number. A rapper; the first NBA bench player to be voted as a starter in the all-star game; and a three-time NBA champion. What else could you want?
Green: How about some independence? The Lakers were fortunate to have Phil Jackson coaching and Shaq manning the middle during those first three titles. You could’ve inserted a number of all-star guards into Kobe’s role and the Lakers would’ve still won a title or two. Ray Allen, Iverson and Tracy McGrady were just some of Bryant’s rivals at the time. Insert one of those guards into Bryant’s slot and titles are still going down. Bryant as No. 24 was the rock of the franchise and the headliner. The lone title year that Bryant won wouldn’t have been duplicated by any of those aforementioned players. Kobe really came into his own once he switched jerseys and began to garner most of the fame and the respect that he holds now.
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