- The Los Angeles Lakers honored Kobe Bryant by retiring his No. 8 and No. 24 jerseys during halftime of matchup with the Golden State Warriors.
LOS ANGELES – There were Kobe video tributes, Kobe signs, deafening “Ko-be! Ko-be!” chants, Kobe highlight reels, Kobe posters, Kobe cakes, Kobe plush dolls, a “Kobeland” street fair with a Kobe Ferris wheel and Kobe Plinko, hundreds of Kobe replica jerseys, Kobe Fatheads, Kobe giveaway t-shirts, Kobe commemorative Nike t-shirts, Kobe commemorative Nike sneakers, Kobe-centric Nike television commercials, a Kobe-voiced dramatic reading of his “Dear Basketball” short film, special-edition Kobe “RoboJam” drones (only 400 made), a Kobe hashtag (#Ko8e24), a Kobe Stopper (Ruben Patterson) and, finally, two Kobe jerseys raised to the Staples Center rafters.
The Lakers honored franchise icon Kobe Bryant by retiring his No. 8 and No. 24 jerseys during a 116-114 overtime loss to the Warriors on Monday, with the halftime ceremony completing a full day of unadulterated idol worship. Bryant—sporting a beard, wearing a dark suit, dark tie and white shirt, and joined by his wife and three daughters—was welcomed to the court by Lakers president Magic Johnson, GM Rob Pelinka and owner Jeanie Buss.
“We’re here to celebrate the greatest who has ever worn the purple and gold,” Johnson said. “For 20 years, you thrilled us and made us scratch our heads and say, ‘What we did we just see? What did we just witness?’ … There will never, ever be another Kobe Bryant.“
Taking the microphone in front of a standing and chanting crowd, Bryant first paid tribute to the Lakers greats in attendance. He thanked his wife, Vanessa, for collecting numerous messages of support from basketball legends like Michael Jordan, Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, adding that she gifted them to him before the final game of his career. Bryant then concluded his brief speech with a message to his daughters.
“Those times you get up early and work hard, those times when stay up late and work hard, those times when you don’t feel like working and you’re tired and you don’t want to push yourself, but you do it anyway,” Bryant said. “That is actually the dream. That’s the dream. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. If you guys can understand that, what you’ll see happen is that you won’t accomplish your dreams. Your dreams won’t come true. Something greater will.”
Bryant, a five-time champion, is the first NBA player to have two different numbers retired by the same franchise. He entered the league in 1996 wearing No. 8 before switching in 2006 to No. 24. Upon his 2016 retirement, there was debate as to whether the Lakers would retire No. 8, No. 24 or both. After all, Bryant had won championships, captured scoring titles and received All-NBA honors in each number. He scored 81 points against the Raptors wearing No. 8, but he passed Michael Jordan for third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list and scored 60 points in his final game while wearing No. 24.
“It’s really, really tough for me,” Bryant told reporters during a pre-game press conference, when asked which jersey he would retire if he could only choose one. “If 8 is playing 24 after he just ruptured his Achilles, that’s a problem for 24. If 24 is playing 8 after he tore his shoulder, that’s a problem for 8.
“24 was more challenging. I tend to gravitate towards things that are harder to do. Physically, for me, it was really hard to get up night in and night out [later in my career]. Taking on the Boston Celtics, having a bone fragment in my foot during that series, having a broken finger. Muscling through the back half of my career. Some of the toughest stretches of basketball I’ve ever had. If you’re forcing me to pick, I’d go with 24 because of that.”
But the Lakers sidestepped the numerical debate in September, announcing plans to retire both No. 8 and No. 24 for Bryant, their franchise leader in games played and points and the first player in NBA history to play for one franchise for 20 years. Bryant’s two jerseys, both of which feature his last name, now flank a jersey bearing a microphone that honors longtime broadcaster Chick Hearn on a crowded Staples Center wall of retired jerseys.
“We’re retiring both of your numbers because if we separated the accomplishments under each of the numbers, each of those players would qualify for the Hall of Fame,” Buss said.
Bryant’s jerseys hang below previously retired jerseys honoring Abdul-Jabbar (33), Elgin Baylor (22), Wilt Chamberlain (13), Gail Goodrich (25), Johnson (32), O'Neal (34), Jerry West (44), Jamaal Wilkes (52), and James Worthy (42). They hang to the left of banners commemorating the Lakers’ 16 championship banners.
“All the years I’ve been playing here, the child inside of me has never left,” Bryant said, joking that he was a “kid so young you had to burp him before practice” when he arrived in LA as an 18-year-old rookie. “One of the first things I did when I walked into the Forum, it was dimly lit, and I looked up to see the jerseys. Before every game, I made it a point to glance up there to remind me what I was playing for, how I got here, and what it is we’re playing for. …To be a part of that wall means everything to me.”
During the game, the Lakers aired video tributes from Lakers coach Luke Walton, assistant coach Brian Shaw, and a host of current players, including Lonzo Ball, Brook Lopez, Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma. “Can you imagine a future Laker trying to put on one of those jerseys? It wouldn’t look right,” Walton said. “It wouldn’t feel right.”
Messages of congratulations from rival players and coaches—including Kevin Garnett, Doc Rivers, Gilbert Arenas, Gregg Popovich and Carmelo Anthony – were also displayed on the Jumbotron. “His mentality was kill or be killed,” Anthony said. “And if you were prey, he was coming for you.”
Former teammates O’Neal, Pau Gasol, Robert Horry and Derek Fisher also reflected on playing with Bryant in video messages. O’Neal, who teamed with Bryant to win three consecutive titles from 2000 to 2002 before being traded to the Heat, hailed Bryant’s supreme self-confidence and said that their love-hate pairing “was fun while it lasted.” Bryant shared on-court embraces with O’Neal, Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Allen Iverson and former Lakers trainer Gary Vitti, among many others.
In the hours before his double jersey retirement, the notoriously insatiable Bryant revealed that he has already given some thought to another inevitable honor: a statue outside Staples Center that would stand next to existing monuments to O’Neal, Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar, West and other LA sports legends.
“If they do a statue, you don’t have to see the number anyway,” Bryant joked. “If you do hair [on the statue] that’s a dead giveaway. 8 has something that 24 will never, ever, ever have: the ability to grow hair.”