Inside Kobe’s Two Legendary Careers
The late Lakers legend had two Hall of Fame-worthy careers in his 20 years, one wearing No. 8 and the other wearing No. 24.
Editor's note: This story was originally published on Aug. 24, 2020.
Kobe Bryant played 20 years in his NBA career, 10 wearing No. 8 and another 10 wearing No. 24. When it came time to retire his number, the Lakers hung both from the Staples Center rafters, and it's easy to see why. When you separate the two, it's as if he had two legendary careers in one.
Bryant came into the NBA wearing No. 8, the sum of the digits on his jersey (143) at the Adidas ABCD camp for high school stars. After 10 years, Bryant wanted a fresh start, so he began wearing No. 24, the number he'd worn as a freshman in high school.
Bryant started filling his trophy case early, winning the Slam Dunk Contest at All-Star Weekend as a rookie in 1997. He won All-Star MVP honors and scoring titles in both of his numbers. His lone MVP came as No. 24, but No. 8 has the edge in All-NBA selections (8-7).
It didn't matter whether Bryant was wearing No. 8 or No. 24, he was putting up numbers -- ones that were almost identical in each jersey. He scored more points in each jersey number than Hall of Famers Tiny Archibald, James Worthy and Pete Maravich scored in their entire careers.
Which Bryant was more impressive in the Finals? It's hard to say. Playing alongside Shaquille O'Neal, No. 8 went back-to-back-to-back, an accomplishment that hasn't been matched by anyone since. At the end of the decade, No. 24 couldn't three-peat, but did win a pair of Finals MVP trophies.
There are so many iconic Kobe Bryant games that it's hard to pick just one -- even if you get one per jersey number. His career-high 81-point game came just months before he ditched No. 8. And while his 61-point performance at MSG wasn't his best in No. 24, it was probably the most memorable.
Most points scored in single game, NBA history
Most points scored at current MSG by opponent
Whether he was wearing No. 8 or No. 24, Bryant's impact reached far beyond Staples Center. His iconic Nike sneaker line is still going strong, and the Adidas shoes he rocked while wearing No. 8 are some of that company's most popular retros. He has been name-dropped in rap lyrics -- both as No. 8 (thanks, Lil Wayne) and No. 24 (hi, Kanye West), and countless players wear (or stopped wearing) his jersey numbers in his honor.
As No. 8, Kobe started his career in Adidas (the jersey number is where the Crazy 8 sneaker gets its name) and changed to Nike before changing his jersey number.
Kobe went higher with his jersey change around the same time he went lower with his kicks, helping to popularize soccer-style low-cut shoes among NBA players.
"For my generation, [Kobe] was our Michael Jordan. ... I remember where I was watching some of his games. I was at the game where he hit 12 3-pointers against the Sonics. He was partly the reason why I wear No. 8." -- Bulls guard Zach LaVine
"I just wanted to thank [Kobe] for all he's done for everybody in the league and for me. You need that role model coming up and for me, it was God and him." -- Pacers forward Alize Johnson on why he wears No. 24
When Bryant retired in 2016, people around the league began asking the question, "Which jersey number will the Lakers retire?" As it turned out, the answer was "both." Bryant's No. 8 and No. 24 will forever hang in the rafters.