One name. Two numbers. Two Hall of Fame careers.
When the Lakers retired No. 8 and No. 24 in December 2017, Kobe Bryant became the first and only player in NBA history with two different jerseys retired by the same team.
It’s not hyperbole to say that he delivered two distinct Hall of Fame careers. In fact, if you take Basketball-Reference’s Hall of Fame probability calculator and split Bryant’s career into two separate stints, one wearing No. 8 and one wearing No. 24, he’d have a 99.8 and 99.9 percent chance of making it.
When we think of contextualizing Bryant’s career, it’s nearly impossible to sum up the overwhelming totality of his accomplishments amassed over a 20-year run without venturing down the path of the GOAT argument. The endless list of unconscionable achievements is dumbfounding.
And while many have spilled enough ink debating his place among the legends to fill an entire library, have you ever really stopped to think about the sheer magnitude and prolific production of the two distinct Kobe eras?
Rather than paying homage to the legacy of one player on 8/24, let’s take this opportunity to shower praise on both No. 8 and No. 24.
Inside Kobe’s career wearing No. 8
Imagine if, at the conclusion of the 2005-06 season, Bryant simply decided to call it quits. It’s a preposterous notion that never would have actually happened given he was just 27 years old after his 10th season, but for argument’s sake, let’s just say it happened.
FROM TSN ARCHIVES: 19-year-old Kobe is the NBA’s most electic player
At that point in time, Bryant had racked up 16,866 points, which would be enough to make him the current all-time leader in points for 10 different franchises: the Nets, Hornets, Clippers, Grizzlies, Bucks, Pelicans, Magic, Suns, Raptors and Wizards.
(BONUS: Can you name the all-time leader for each of those teams? Answers at the bottom.)
During his first 10 seasons, Bryant tallied a whopping 97.0 win shares. You might be thinking to yourself, “OK, sweet, I have no earthly idea if that’s good.” Well, it’s more than Chris Mullin had in 16 seasons, Rick Barry had in 14 seasons, Bob Cousy had in 14 seasons and Isiah Thomas had in 13 seasons. In all, it’s more than 100 different Hall of Famers had in their entire careers.
If win shares don’t do it for you, how about game-winners at the buzzer? Younger Kobe in particular had a flair for the dramatic. During Bryant’s second season, Eddie Jones — an All-Star in his own right who started over Bryant his first two years in the league — spoke in awe about how a 19-year-old backup shooting guard owned the moment.
“I would pay money just to watch Kobe play for 10 seconds,” Jones said. “Yeah, the last 10 seconds of every quarter. Because you know he’s getting the ball. And you know he’s doing something with it.”
According to Basketball-Reference’s exhaustive list of all 790 game-winning buzzer-beaters in NBA history, Bryant’s eight ranks tied for second with Joe Johnson (no “Iso Joe” slander will be allowed in this space) and one behind Michael Jordan. Five of his eight came wearing No. 8, a number that on its own would stand among the greatest to ever do it.
While the entire purpose of this exercise is to shed light on the outrageous accomplishments amassed over merely one half of a sterling career, I can’t help myself from briefly zeroing in on what I consider to be Kobe’s finest hour: the 2005-06 season.
(Actually don’t forget it. Watch it. Every day. Then watch Stuart Scott’s “SportsCenter” highlight reel.)
Can we briefly talk about how he dragged a team featuring Smush Parker, Chris Mihm, Brian Cook and Kwame Brown to the playoffs? Whenever Kobe was off the floor, the Lakers got blitzed by 7.9 points per 100 possessions. For context, remember how terrible the Warriors were this past year whenever Stephen Curry sat? They were minus-4.6 in Curry-less minutes. Los Angeles had absolutely no business winning 45 games, let alone coming within one game of topping a loaded Phoenix team.
Sure, blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Suns wasn’t a great look. But I’ll always fondly look back at that 2005-06 season as the ultimate feather in Bryant’s No. 8 cap.
Inside Kobe’s career wearing No. 24
OK, so imagine in this Kobe multiverse of madness that 2006-07 represented the opening chapter to an entirely separate career. We’d probably have to wonder how a 28-year-old rookie showed up and won the scoring title, but that’s neither here nor there.
If No. 8 was about growing into his role, winning rings with Shaq, blossoming into the league’s most electric (and polarizing) star and jostling for respect, then No. 24 was about proving skeptics wrong, winning on his own terms, building an all-time legacy and forever cementing his status in NBA lore.
It’s a remarkable run.
- Scoring title in 2006-07
- MVP in 2007-08
- Olympic gold in summer of 2008
- Back-to-back rings in 2009 and 2010
From 2006-07 through 2010-11, Bryant reeled off five straight years in which he made both All-NBA and All-Defensive First Teams, a feat matched only by Jordan, LeBron James and Tim Duncan. While much of Kobe’s all-time legacy talk hinges on his start-to-finish excellence, his two-way peak stacks up with quite literally anyone in the history of the game.
Of course, winning back-to-back rings as “The Man” serves as Bryant’s crowning achievement. He’s one of just 11 players to win multiple NBA Finals MVPs and one of six to ever do it in consecutive seasons.
Looking beyond the rings further elucidates his postseason exploits over the back half of his career. No. 24’s 14.2 postseason wins shares rank ahead of the entire careers of Thomas, Patrick Ewing, Draymond Green, Tony Parker and Steve Nash. Without even considering his play donning No. 8, Bryant would rank among the 50 most prolific postseason performers ever — and that’s without the three-peat or a fourth run to the NBA Finals.
Now let’s talk about getting buckets.
Although he scored more wearing No. 8 (16,866 to 16,777 for all of you keeping score at home) and dropped 81, his finest extended display as a scorer came in No. 24. In the span of one week in March 2007, Mamba pumped in 65-50-60-50, all in close wins and on the heels of a seven-game skid.
|Kobe Bryant wearing No. 24||14|
|Kobe Bryant wearing No. 8||11|
Bryant had as many 50-point games in a week as Larry Bird and Tracy McGrady had in their entire careers. He had more of them in a week than Dwyane Wade, Oscar Robertson, Dirk Nowitzki, Shaquille O’Neal, Vince Carter, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ray Allen ever had.
The celebration of Kobe’s career continues
Against the backdrop of a world still struggling to grasp the premature and tragic loss of a true icon, Aug. 24 provides the perfect opportunity to shed light on his brilliance and honor the legend gifted enough to craft not one, but two separate Hall of Fame careers.
Bryant’s rookie season coincided with the league’s 50th anniversary during which the NBA famously unveiled the 50 greatest players of all time. Just 18 years old at the time, Bryant won the Slam Dunk Contest at All-Star weekend in Cleveland and personally witnessed the single greatest collection of basketball talent in the history game unite to celebrate the sport’s rich history.
This season marks the 75th anniversary, and once again, the NBA will be commemorating the occasion with a list of the 75 greatest players. Coincidentally, All-Star weekend is back in Cleveland, and when the NBA’s all-time constellation converges, Bryant’s star will shine brighter than any other.
BONUS ANSWERS: Nets (Brook Lopez), Hornets (Kemba Walker), Clippers (Randy Smith), Grizzlies (Mike Conley), Bucks (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), Pelicans (Anthony Davis), Magic (Dwight Howard), Suns (Walter Davis), Raptors (DeMar DeRozan), Wizards (Elvin Hayes)