TONIGHT Kobe Bryant will have not one, but two of his jersey’s retired when the L.A. Lakers host the Golden State Warriors. One of the greatest players to ever lace ’em up will become the first player in history to have two numbers retired by the same team, which is fitting because splitting No. 8 and No. 24’s accomplishments is a near-impossible task. Or is it? After switching from #8 to #24 to start the 2006-07 season, Kobe gave us 10 years of memories in each number with both representing two vastly different stages of his career. Comparing chapter one against chapter two provides some interesting results.
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FOR his first 10 years while wearing No. 8, Kobe played Robin to Shaquille O’Neal’s Batman, with the two pairing up for Bryant’s first eight years in the league. Once Shaq left Tinseltown, the Black Mamba was able to ascend and he transformed himself into the Lakers’ clear alpha dog. While he played in more playoff games and won more titles as No. 8, Kobe averaged more points come playoff time in No. 24 (22.9 PPG compared to 29.3 PPG) and was the driving force behind Los Angeles’ back to back titles in 2010 and 2011. He may have experienced more ‘success’ in his first 10 seasons, but in his second 10, all the success the franchise had was virtually off of his own back.
Edge: No. 24
NO. 8 was an athletic beast, using his god-given talent to yam on anyone who blocked his path to the rim. The second incarnation of Bryant was a much more methodical player, displaying perhaps the best footwork we have ever seen from a professional basketballer. His No. 8 per game averages are hampered due to Kobe competing with Eddie Jones for the starter role during his first few years in the league, but even without looking at those stats, the evolution he displayed during in his days wearing 24 gives him the edge here. Kobe expanded his game when he didn’t have as much bounce and athleticism and still averaged a high points total, which is a testament to his legendary work ethic and competitive drive.
Edge: No. 24
Image from nba.com
THERE is no perfect way to track a player’s defensive impact compared to the way you can map out their offensive success. Looking at defensive efficiency alone Kobe was better in his first chapter with No. 8 a lockdown guy who made five straight All-Defense teams from ’00-’04 and averaged more steals and more blocks in his first 10 pro seasons. In his second act, Kobe was hardly a defensive scrub, making six straight All-D first squads (06-11) leading to 12 total selections in his career – tied with Kevin Garnett for the second most appearances on an All-Defense team in the league’s history. It’s a tight race, but I’m giving young Kobe the win in this category.
Edge: No. 8 (Just)
NO. 8 – 2006 Regular Season vs. Raptors
IF you were packaging No. 8’s best moments against No. 24’s as a whole there is a clear winner. From posterizing the likes of Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett, to the clutch heroics against Portland in the ’03-’04 regular-season finale and of course, that famous buzzer-beater against Phoenix (my personal favourite), the first 10 years of Kobe’s career has plenty of iconic moments. None of them were greater than his performance on January 22, 2006, when he torched the Toronto Raptors for 81 points. Only one time in NBA history has a player scored more points in a pro game. Nuf said.
NO. 24 – 2016 Regular Season vs. Jazz
THE more mature Kobe Bryant didn’t have the same prowess above the rim, disqualifying him from performing as many aerial acrobatics. However, that doesn’t mean he didn’t have as many highlights. Take a look at the ’09-’10 season for example when Bryant made six game-winning shots, or late in 2014 when he became the oldest player to record a 30+ point triple-double in NBA history and a few weeks later overtook Jordan on the all-time scorer’s list. In true Kobe fashion though during the final game of his NBA career, he went out on his terms. An unforgettable night unfolded at Staples Center as Kobe poured in 60 points in 42 minutes of action, that of course, featured clutch buckets down the stretch to guide the Lakers to a win. Even at the age of 37, there was still no stopping Kobe Bryant.
TO be honest this one is a lot tougher to split than most may think. Haters will say that even though Kobe scored 60 in his final game it took him 50 shots. Other naysayers will say that his game against Toronto epitomizes his selfishness and ball hogging tendencies. Everyone else is just grateful that he was able to give us countless breathtaking performances that will forever live in NBA history. It’s hard, but you can’t overlook and 81-point game.
Edge: No. 8 (Just)
AGAIN the second half of Kobe’s career reaped more personal accolades after he stepped out from Shaquille O’Neal’s shadow. He made more All-Star appearances (10 compared to eight), more All-NBA first teams (seven compared to four), chalked up nearly three times as many MVP votes (3,698 compared to 1,303), more Finals MVP awards (two compared to none), and of course, he claimed his only MVP award in 2007-08. With the exception of championships and All-Defense first teams in every other major award category, the elder statesman claimed pole position.
Edge: No. 24
VERDICT – NO. 24 KOBE
LET’S take a quick glance at No. 8 vs. No 24’s averages from the best eight seasons, which allows us to take away Kobe’s first few seasons (’96-’97 & ’97-’98) as he battled for the starting role and his injury-interrupted years (’13-’14 & ’14-’15) in the second half of his career.
No 8: 27.1 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 5.1 APG, 45.4 FG%, 33.3 3P%, 83.9 FT%
No. 24: 26.6 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.8 APG 44.7 FG%, 32.7 3P%, 84.1 FT%
Image from thescore.com
THE numbers almost mirror each other, highlighting the Black Mamba’s astonishing consistency over a two-decade-long period. His first 10 seasons in the league give us all flashbacks to his time as Shaq’s sidekick, an athletic animal and a scoring dynamo. The latter decade was when his legacy was really defined though as he became the face of the storied Lakers franchise and established himself as one of the greatest to ever play basketball. His teenage years and early 20’s saw Bryant flirt with the discussion of being a great 2-guard in the history of the game. By the time he was done, there was no denying that he and Jordan were a cut above the rest. The debate can be made that No. 8 was a slightly better basketball player, but the overall impact that No. 24 had on the game can’t be measured.
Banner from bleacherreport.com