Kobe Bryant had his two numbers lifted to the rafters of Staples Center on Monday night.
Enigmatic. Disciplined. Winner. Selfish. Clutch. Overrated Loser. Champion. Mamba.
However you want to describe Kobe Bean Bryant, there is no doubt that in his 20 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers his greatness has been unique.
During halftime of their 116-114 overtime loss to the Golden State Warriors, the Lakers permanently placed Kobe Bryant among fellow Lakers legends. Just like his career, the occasion was unique as the Lakers retired both jerseys that Kobe wore with the team.
From now on when entering the Staples Center fans will now look up to the rafters and did both #8 and #24 lifted to its lofty status. A fitting tribute to a player that seemingly had two careers with the Lakers.
The #8 Kobe Bryant was the second piece of the best off-season in Lakers history, before general manager Jerry West signed Shaquille O’Neal, he first made the trade for the draft rights of Bryant. Coming out of high school Bryant did enough in his pre-draft work out to have West exclaim that he had seen the best player in the draft.
Bryant proved himself a player beyond his years growing into an athlete that served as a companion piece to O’Neal as they both helped resurrect the Lakers franchise helping them to three straight titles in the early 2000’s.
The pair’s fractious relationship could not survive their triumphs and was exacerbated by Bryant’s growing need to control the team. When O’Neal was traded away, Bryant was now the sole focus of the Lakers franchise and gave notice to the league that he was the best player.
In 2006, Bryant led the league in scoring for the first of two times and produced the best game of the NBA season scoring 81 points against the Toronto Raptors. After the season the. Decided it was time for a change and officially switched to the #24 jersey.
The #24 Kobe Bryant morphed himself from the athlete to a more polished jump shooter, adding to his repertoire seemingly every off-season in his quest to be the greatest. The change in jersey did not elevate his team’s play though and two straight first-round exits pushed him to the brink.
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In 2007, Bryant was demanding a trade that would have altered his career and the NBA. Bryant almost ended up in a different uniform. When cooler heads prevailed and a trade for Pau Gasol righted the ship the NBA now faced a new dynamic duo.
Bryant and Gasol would help the Lakers to three straight NBA Finals and back-to-back wins in 2009 and 2010. Now Kobe was the unquestioned leader of the team, not merely a sidekick, at times a taskmaster at times a wizened veteran helping bring along the supporting cast that would follow him until his retirement.
The jersey retirement ceremony felt like closure to one of the greatest chapters in Lakers history. The career that grew into a legend is now closed, there are new players seeking to follow in the Lakers footsteps of Kobe Bryant.
He is now in the rafters a symbol, two numbers, two paths, one great career.