Monday night, the Los Angeles Lakers will honor arguably the greatest player in their franchise history. Less than two years after retiring from a 20-year career in the purple and gold, Kobe Bryant will see his jerseys retired at Staples Center.
Bryant will not only see his name in the rafters but he will see both numbers he wore during his career raised next to the bevy of Hall of Famers from Lakers lore. Kobe wore #8 and #24 during his distinguished career, splitting his 20 years evenly between the two numbers and personas and playing his way into a Hall of Fame career with each one.
With Bryant’s jersey retirement coming up, the Lakers Outsiders staff came together to discuss their favorite memories of the legend wearing each number.
Choosing one memory from each is incredibly difficult. I could go on and on with memories from Kobe wearing either number, but here’s my best attempt to narrow it down.
For #8, I have to go with the 81-point game (Sorry, Jalen). After all, only one other player in the history of the game has eclipsed that mark. Kobe let us all witness the second-highest individual point total in NBA history, during the modern era. It was absolutely unreal, and it still amazes me when I watch it even almost 12 years later.
For #24, the final game of his career. Growing up, I frequently made the trip from Boise to Salt Lake City to see the Lakers play the Jazz, so watching Kobe stick it to them one last time, his way, was so gratifying. People bashed Kobe his entire career for his style of play, and he just continued to do his thing. With all eyes on him, battling exhaustion, he willed the Lakers to a win like he had done so many times before. We saw how worn down his body was throughout his final season. For that night, he just found a way to get it done, giving us one more vintage performance to the tune of 60 points as he rode off into the sunset like the legend he was.
Also, his very last play was an assist. Suck it, haters.
Kobe #8: When he got on stage at the all-star game in all leopard print to rap his song. It’ll probably be back from the 2004 season. They were playing against the Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden. The Lakers were down 87-84 with eight seconds left. Gary Payton inbounded the ball to Kobe, and the “Kobe Stopper” Ruben Patterson was draped all over Kobe. Kobe, top of the key tried everything he could, pump faked, and even with Patterson right in his face, drilled a 3 as time expired to force OT.
In Double OT, the Lakers were down 104-102. With the crowd noise ringing out “Beat LA, Beat LA”, Gary Payton inbounds the ball again. Kobe was freed up by a screen from Kareem Rush, received the ball from Payton and drilled another three to silence the Portland crowd. I love clutch shots and man, did Kobe have a lot of them. This was probably my favorite instance though
Kobe #24: Probably the pass to Ron Artest during the 2010 finals. I love Passing Kobe so much just due to the fact that he’s always referred to as someone who just shoots. (There was the string of games in the 2012-2013 season where Kobe decided to pass like Magic Johnson, sure, but I’ll stick to this).
I just remember being at my friend Patrick’s house, biting my nails as time was running down. Up only three points with a minute remaining, Kobe has the ball looking like he was rising up for a shot but instead gets the ball to Ron Artest who jab steps and hits the three. This won them the title (as well as Sasha fixing his eyebrows and hitting free throws but we’ll save that for his jersey retirement). Kobe was an extremely intelligent player and I love how he made the right play to win.
To piggyback off of Gary, he ended his career with an assist. How PERFECT is that? It feels like a middle finger to everyone that ever called him a ball hog. It’s just incredible that assisting Jordan Clarkson is the last thing he’ll do on a basketball court instead of taking a fadeaway in the post over 2 people.
#8 – My favorite memory for Kobe wearing number eight has to be one of the very first ones I can recall from Game 4 of the 2000 NBA Finals. It was the first Black Mamba moment for Kobe. With Shaq having fouled out, Kobe took over and dominated the fourth quarter and overtime and more or less won the title for the Lakers. And he did it at the age of 21. It was incredible to watch and still hard to comprehend a player that young being that composed and that cold-blooded. His “Relax, I got this” iconic moment after a clutch pull-up jumper in overtime is one of my favorite of his career.
#24 – There’s so many to choose from that it’s like a Rolodex going through my mind. But in the end, the moment that will always stick out with me is Kobe standing on top of the scorers’ table after the 2010 NBA Finals, confetti falling around him, arms extended as he was king of the NBA world. That series took nothing short of 15 years off my life and the emotional release after the Lakers won can be summed up in that moment. The Lakers had avenged the Celtics victory two years prior and had slain previous demons by doing so in seven games. For Bryant, that was his pinnacle. He’d proven he could win without Shaq, then he proved he could beat the Celtics. To me, that was the height of his career. It was a moment I’ll always cherish.
#8: Picking a favorite memory from Kobe’s #8 days is tough because I was fairly young for most of it and just have a horrible memory. But just looking back at everything he accomplished in that jersey, I have to go with the 81 point game. It’s one where I can still watch the highlights to it and it’s as if it just happened all over again. Kobe had a lot of achievements early on in his career, but this one felt like a peak Kobe moment. He was so on fire in this game that he pretty much just casually put up 81 points like it was nothing. I wonder just how often NBA Classics plays this game. I wouldn’t mind watching it again soon.
#24: Having way more memories of Kobe in this jersey doesn’t make it any easier to pick one. I’m going to go with his two free throws after he ruptured his Achilles. Most people wouldn’t be walking, let alone even standing, after an injury like that. But what does Kobe do? He gets himself to the line and drains two free throws. I’m not sure there’s anything more Kobe than that moment. He played through tons of injuries, but none like that. While Kobe was never really the same after that injury, it told you everything you ever needed to know about him.
My favorite Kobe Bryant moment with the number 8 jersey has to be his performance in 2006 against the Phoenix Suns in game four of the playoffs. That was my first experience of a real Laker playoff series. I was in middle school, so I was old enough to understand the magnitude of the playoffs. I remember the last minute of game four and thinking that there was no way the Lakers would come back. And then Kobe made a ridiculous layup to send them in overtime. The last few possessions in OT looked bleak. And when Kobe had the ball in the last few seconds of the game, I knew it was going in. I erupted when Kobe hit that game winner, I called my friend and screamed at him because he was a Laker hater. It was honestly the best moment in my middle school years.
Number 24 Kobe Bryant matured as I did. My favorite moment of his career was when he won his first ring without Shaq in 2009 against the Orlando Magic. I was devastated the previous year when they lost to the Celtics (we got those suckers back in 2010 though!), so I was ecstatic to see the Lakers win a championship. What was great was that title was the first one that I understood its significance. I heard about the 3-peat with Shaq, but I was too young to experience it. Kobe’s performance was terrific throughout the series. He set the tone in game one and ended up winning his first Finals MVP.
I was a late bloomer when it comes to becoming a fan of basketball but I remember the exact moment it happened. In 2006, Kobe Bryant, wearing the #8 jersey of his younger days, hit a patented pull-up jumper, fading away from two defenders draped all over him to get the Lakers a huge playoff win over the always hated Suns. At the time, I wasn’t aware of the playoffs or the meaning behind the shot. I didn’t have any recollection of the eventual series loss. But in that moment, I saw the resilience of Kobe Bryant in the face of adversity and I could never go back.
Fast forward seven years and two championships later to Kobe Bryant, donning the number 24, showing that resilience again for what was effectively the final chapter of his career. What was becoming a lost season earlier in the year despite a loaded roster and immense expectations, turned into Kobe turning back the clock and carrying his team once more. At 34 years old, Bryant had one of the most incredible seasons of an amazing career but it ended in heartbreak as he tore his Achilles after the huge minutes accumulated to a level his body couldn’t handle. Even in that disappointment, however, Bryant managed to amaze us, as he nailed two clutch free throws, left foot hovering in the air, to help secure an important win in the middle of a playoff race.
That was Kobe.