KOBE Bryant has been nothing but a polarizing figure throughout his legendary NBA career - that is, until he announced that his 20th season would be his last.
The tributes, kind words, and praises soon poured in for the LA Lakers superstar. But amid a unanimous recognition of his greatness, another debate looms. By April 14 (Manila time), Bryant walks off the Staples Center floor for the final time wearing his Lakers jersey. The next time he’ll be back on the same court is when the franchise retires his number.
But which one?
It’s no secret that Bryant entered and rocked the league wearing jersey No. 8, but switched to 24 (his number during his prep days) by the 2006-2007 season, his 10th in the NBA. It’s impressive, though, how eerily similar his stats are while wearing the two jersey numbers. Guess which player is Kobe wearing number 8 and the Mamba in 24 among these two stat lines:
Player A: 24.7 points on 43.4% shooting, 5.26 rebounds, 5.08 assists, 1.34 steals
Player B: 23.6 points on 44.8% shooting, 5.1 rebounds, 4.45 assists, 1.48 steals
The bad shooting clip should be giveaway that Player A is Kobe version 24, if you’re familiar with his horrendous field goal percentage over the last two seasons. But aside from that, everything else is strangely indistinguishable.
Looking at achievements doesn’t really help settle the debate as well. Young Kobe had more championships and All-NBA selections, but Bryant won more individual awards in the second half of his career. Here’s a tale of the tape:
Kobe 8: 3 NBA titles, 8 All-Star appearances, 1 All-Star Game MVP, 8 All-NBA selections, 6 All-Defense selections, 0 MVP, 0 Finals MVP
Kobe 24: 2 NBA titles, 10 All-Star appearances, 3 All-Star Game MVPs, 7 All-NBA selections, 6 All-Defense selections, 1 MVP, 2 Finals MVPs
It could be argued that Kobe won his first three championships as part of a duo with Shaquille O’Neal, while the last two championships were on his shoulders, but that would be a disservice to the depth of the Lakers teams he’s had in those title runs.
To clear things up, SPIN.ph asked seven of the country’s top basketball players who were influenced by Bryant, whether they be Kobe fans or not, to pick their side. The safe answer, of course, is to retire both, which is allowed in the NBA anyway. But safe’s never been the path the Black Mamba took.
Here, the Pinoy stars weigh in on which number LA should retire while talking about how Bryant inspired their own basketball careers:
Guard, Barangay Ginebra
How Kobe Bryant influenced his career: “Ako kasi I’m not a Kobe fan ever since pero sa tingin ko yung work ethic and passion nya sa basketball ang malaking impluwensya nya sa basketball players. The way he shows it, he’s very open to sharing his work ethic, his passion for basketball. Yun ang legacy nya sa basketball.”
8 or 24?: “I think yung legacy nya na-start sa 24. I think he won two championships sa 24. Pero sa 8 tatlo, so 8 talaga. I think kung ano yung mas maraming championships na wearing that jersey, I think it’s better.”
How Kobe Bryant influenced his career: “I grew up idolizing him. Nung bata ako, yung galaw niya ginagaya ko eh. And everybody loves a winner, yung limang championship niya, siya na sinusundan ko since bata ako.”
8 or 24?: “Siguro 24, kasi kahit naka-dalawang championship lang siya dun, nung naka-8 siya, parang sinasabi na may Shaquille O’Neal daw eh. At least sa 24, may napatunayan na kaya niya mag-champion without Shaq.”
Forward, San Miguel Beer
How Kobe Bryant influenced his career: “It would be his mental approach especially [when he wore] 24. He was more mature. And his post game was obviously great with 8 but it got better and it was complete and polished with 24. I think Kobe was able to dissect Michael [Jordan’s] post game and maybe add some stuff to it.”
8 or 24?: “I’d have to go with 24, that’s so tough, though. You can go either way but I’ll go with 24 just because he got those two championships when he’s the man. I can’t say he was really in his prime then because it was split. He had great seasons with 8, his prime years were split with 24 and 8 but I’ll go with 24 because he was the man on the team that got two championships.”
Center, Barangay Ginebra
How Kobe Bryant influenced his career: “It doesn’t matter if you’re big or small, Kobe’s a basketball player and one of the greatest to ever do it. And he’s no ordinary guard because he shows a lot of work in the post. I think the biggest thing with Kobe that inspires me is just showing that if you put in the work, you can achieve anything. Showing how much dedication he put in, and how much he’s accomplished and still working so hard at it, it’s that kind of inspiration for all basketball players. No matter what level you’re on, you can always work to be better. All the winning, the success he’s had, that just shows you that the keys to success will always be dedication, love of the game, and hard work.
8 or 24?: “That’s just so hard to say because you know, you got 8 where he won more championships and did the 81 points with that. With the 24, he won the championships when it was more on him rather than Shaq. I can’t say, really, but maybe I would say 24.”
How Kobe Bryant influenced his career: “Ever since, I’ve been a Kobe fan. [I remember in a 1997 exhibition game here], teammate sila ng tatay ko nun. Nasa backstage kami, binuhat niya pa ako nun. Malas lang, hindi ako nakatingin sa camera. Nakatingin ako sa buhok niya. I was also lucky enough to be a part of Nike, so every time he was here, I was there with him. One time, was able to get my Mambacurials na Kobe 6, napapirmahan ko pa yun. Yun yung pinaka-swerte talaga. Isa siya sa mga heroes ko talaga. It’s just saddening that it’s the last few days of his career. Probably the first couple of years na wala si Kobe, hahanap-hanapin mo siya.”
8 or 24?: “Eight. Yun yung story niya eh, from a 17-year-old kid from Lower Merion High School and talagang pag pasok niya, traded agad from Charlotte to Lakers, been through different issues on and off the court. Makikita mo kasi yung pagpalit niya sa 24, meaning nun yung change of maturity ng laro niya. Yung 8, yun siguro yung nakatatak talaga, though he won numerous championships also with 24, pero I think 8 should be the one retired.”
Guard, San Miguel Beer
How Kobe Bryant influenced his career: “The crazy thing in my house is that I was born and raised in San Antonio, so my family they’re Spurs fans but my dad is from LA so he’s a big Laker fan. Growing up, we watched the Lakers and the Spurs. The Kobe who wore number 8 influenced me more when I was younger. But when I really knew basketball, that’s also when he turned to 24, when he really studied the game, picked defenses apart, using angles more, and that’s a better influence to me now.”
8 or 24?: “I’m on the fence. Kobe 8 was where he made his name and he won his first few championships with 8, he scored 81. But then Kobe 24 was when he matured more, he won rings where he was the main man, got his Finals MVPs with 24 so I don’t know, man. Personally, I like Kobe 8 better because while 24 was fun to watch, but Kobe 8? There were a few years where they weren’t competing for championships and he was just going out and killing everyone. So I personally like Kobe 8. Kobe 24 was more business-like, win at all cost Kobe, but Kobe 8 was more fun to watch.”
Forward, Barangay Ginebra
How Kobe Bryant shaped his career: “Since bata ako, pinapanood ko yung highlights niya. Marami kang matututunan. He takes all the challenges at pinatunayan niya na siya talaga yung the best, like kahit sinong ilagay nila na bumantay sa kanya, talagang tinake niya as a challenge. He makes a way para manalo.”
8 or 24?: “Both kasi parehong number, ang ganda ng na-contribute niya eh.”
The count: Three votes each for 8 and 24, respectively, with one vote going the safe route. Be the tiebreaker and hit us up on the comments for your pick.
(All stats from basketball-reference.com as of April 5, 2016)