On Sunday, the world lost a basketball icon when Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others were killed in a tragic helicopter accident. Bryant is one of the only athletes in any sport to make two different jersey numbers so popular, wearing No. 8 for the first 10 years of his career before switching to No. 24 for the final 10. He excelled while wearing both so much that the Los Angeles Lakers retired both in 2017, the only player in league history to receive such an honor. To honor him today, we will debate which version of Kobe was better: 8 or 24.
When I think of Kobe Bryant, I think of him as the absolute face of the Lakers and with No. 24 on his back. There’s no doubt he was great in No. 8, but Shaq was also in town for a stretch including all three titles. Kobe willed the Lakers to two championships in the post-Shaq era, winning Finals MVP in each. Oh, and his one and only league MVP came in his second season in wearing no. 24. Kobe went to the All-Star Game 10 times, was named to the All-Defensive 1st team five times and the All-NBA 1st team seven times, all in the second half of his career. Mamba was never more Mamba than when he wore no. 24.
No. 24 Kobe was amazing, but I think no. 8 Kobe, also known as “Frobe” due to his afro hairstyle, was even better. When I think of Kobe wearing no. 8, so many of his most iconic moments and highlights come to mind: dropping 55 on Michael Jordan, hitting a then-record 12 3-pointers in a game, the classic buzzer beater over the Phoenix Suns in the playoffs and of course, the 81-point game. Young Kobe was so dynamic on the court and made plays that made you go, “Wow,” something that didn’t happen as much in the latter half of his career. Also, we shouldn’t penalize him for having a Hall-of-Fame teammate in Shaq for his first three titles. People always say Kobe was carried to those titles by Shaq, but that wasn’t really the case. He averaged over 25 points per game in those three championship runs. Yes, Shaq won the MVPs of the Finals, but Kobe was just as much the reason they were there. He consistently played at the same level as Shaq in the rounds leading up to the Finals, even outplaying him in some series like the 2001 Western Conference Finals. Kobe was just as important to the three-peat as Shaq, and he did it wearing no. 8.
It didn’t really matter what number Kobe was wearing, he consistently dropped jaws and brought crowds to their feet. He banked in a game-winning 3-pointer over Dwyane Wade. He ruptured his Achilles tendon and made two free throws before hobbling off the court. He scored 60 points, including the go-ahead bucket, in his final game. He did all of that in the no. 24. The latter half of his career was also his transition into becoming a family man and being “a girl dad.” Both Natalia and Gianna were born in the no. 8 era, but were likely too young to remember anything before Kobe made the swap to his original high school number. Gigi’s love for basketball grew courtside of Lakers’ games, watching no. 24 school defenders and pass on the “Mamba Mentality” down the lineage.
There is no doubt that Kobe became a much more likeable guy over the second half of his career. Between his image off the court and his growing legend as one of the NBA all-time greats, people started to really like and respect him more while he donned no. 24. Frobe had some off-the-court issues and an oozing confidence that rubbed people the wrong way, but talking strictly on the court, no. 8 was just better. The end of Kobe’s career was plagued by injuries and losing seasons, starting with the Achilles tendon rupture in 2013. He was never quite the same after that, as he suffered injuries to his knee and shoulder in the following seasons. Until his iconic 60-point farewell, we never really saw a truly dominant Kobe Bryant again. Meanwhile, while wearing no. 8, Kobe broke into the league as an 18-year-old kid straight out of high school and established himself as an All-NBA type player by age 20. He knew he could be one of the best players ever, and he consistently put in work to make that happen. He ended his time with No. 8 with arguably his best season, when he averaged an astounding 35.4 points per game and was an MVP snub. I believe that no. 8 Kobe was just slightly better than no. 24, but honestly, it doesn’t matter. Kobe was amazing in both numbers and his legend as a player and person will live on forever. What else can I say? Mamba out.
Kevin Arnold is the associate sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com. He tweets @karnold98.
Danny Barletta is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @dbars_12.