TONIGHT Kobe Bryant will have not one, but two of his jersey’s retired when the Lakers host the 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 heroics 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 jersey number with each symbolizing 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 was playing Robin to Shaquille O’Neal who was his teammate for his first eight years in the league. Once Shaq left town then he transformed into Batman and the Lakers’ alpha dog. While he played in more playoff games and won more titles as No. 8, Kobe averaged six more points in his second chapter come playoff time and was the cornerstone in Los Angeles winning 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 that LA had was virtually off of his own back.
Edge: No. 24
NO. 8 was an athletic beast, able to get to the rack and mash on anyone in his way at any given time. No. 24 was a much more methodical player, with perhaps the best footwork we have ever seen. His No. 8 per game averages are hampered due to Kobe competing with Eddie Jones for the starter role, but even without looking at those numbers the evolution of Kobe in his No. 24 days gives him the win here. The way he expanded his game when he didn’t have as much bounce and still averaged a high points total is a testament to his work ethic and competitive drive.
Edge: No. 24
Image from nba.com
THERE is no perfect way to track a player’s defensive impact the way you can offensively. Looking at defensive efficiency alone Kobe was a better defender in his first chapter though. No. 8 was a lockdown guy who made six All-Defense teams in six straight years. It’s also no coincidence that those were the years that the Lakers were laying waste to the rest of the league, much like Golden State is doing now. In the second half of his career Kobe was still a good defender, but by no means was a great defender, with lapses in his defensive game as he gave 110% of his focus to the offensive side of the ball.
Edge: No. 8
NO. 8 – 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 have plenty of memorable moments. None greater than January 22, 2006, against the Toronto Raptors though. 81 points say no more.
NO. 24 – THE more mature Kobe Bryant didn’t have the same ability above the rim in his second chapter, disqualifying him from performing as many aerial acrobatics. However, that doesn’t mean he didn’t have as many highlights. Look at the ’09-’10 season when he 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 in the final game of his NBA career, he went out on his terms. He 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. 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 to breathtaking performances that will forever live in NBA history. It’s hard, but I still think 81 gets the nod.
Edge: No. 8. Just.
AGAIN the second half of Kobe’s career reaped more personal accolades after he left Shaquille O’Neal’s shadow. He made more All-Star appearances (10 compared to eight), more All-NBA first teams (seven compared to four), nearly three times as many MVP voting points (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 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 period close to 20 years. To determine a winner you have to take all the categories above into account and then some. His legacy from the first 10 seasons is defined as Shaq’s sidekick, an athletic animal and a scoring dynamo. The latter decade was when his legacy is really defined though as he became the face of the 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 field. 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