In their recent interview with ESPN: The Magazine, Jim and Jeanie Buss mentioned that they hoped Kobe Bryant would be a Laker until his retirement, debunking any trade rumors as best they could. In fact, Jeanie directly referenced how she's looking forward to seeing Bryant's jersey hanging in the rafters one day.
However, she never said which jersey.
Number 24 will be retired, that much is for sure. It's the number that Bryant will have on his back in his last game as a Laker, barring some sort of last minute change of heart. However, what about number 8? Would that be retired as well? Or should the Lakers take that jersey out of circulation? Or re-offer it when Kobe retires?
That's a tough one. He was wearing #8 when the Lakers won their 2000, 2001 & 2002 championships; when he scored 81 against Toronto; when he scored 62 in 3 quarters against Dallas (who wore those fugly green & blue unis). So many other great moments. I'd like to see it taken out of circulation for a while then offered up after #24 is retired/hanging, as long as the Lakers consult me on who can wear it. What, is that too much to ask?
Kobe Bryant's #8 should be officially retired in addition to his #24. What it ultimately comes down to is avoiding any awkwardness with the #8 that would surely come later if it was not taken out of circulation. Because honestly, who wants to be the next guy to wear that #8 and try to live up to the standard that young Kobe set for it? As far as memory serves, this is kind of an unprecedented situation, as most players good enough to have their number retired with a team stay with that team their entire career. While Kobe did do that, most players do not switch their number midway into their career to sell more jerseys for mostly unknown reasons. If #8 and #24 were two entirely different players, would the Lakers be retiring both of those jerseys? I would argue that yes, they would be, which is why both jerseys should just be retired when Kobe hangs his up for good.*
*Unless Kevin Durant says he will only come to the Lakers in 2016 if he can wear #8. Then just #24 is good enough.
The Great Mambino
There's certainly enough cause to retire #8: it's the number that the Lakers wouldn't have won three championships without, it's the number that scored 81 points, it's the number that went to eight All-Star games, it's the number that banned eight All-NBA team berths and six All-Defense nods.
That being said, in the number 24, Kobe has won two Finals MVPs and his only regular season MVP, been on six All-Defense teams, seven All-NBA First teams and won two championships as the team's unquestioned best player. It's the jersey in which he's broken many franchise and league records already, and the one in which he'll break a few more before he's done. However, it's important to note that he wouldn't even be at the point of tearing through the record book if not for his ten seasons wearing #8.
However, Kobe will most likely be known as number 24--after all, it's not who did best, it's who did it last. People will remember him as KB24, the alpha dog on two title teams, the man who broke Jordan's scoring record and obliterate the purple and gold record book. As time wears on, I'm certain he'll be largely looked upon as #24, not #8. One number should symbolize one of the ten greatest players of all-time and arguably the greatest player in franchise history. That number should stand alone underneath his name, and that should be number 24. Aesthetically and symbolically, it seems like the right thing to do.
That being said, #8 needs to be honored as well. I'd vote for that number to be simply taken out of circulation, much like Fernando Valenzuela's #34 with the Los Angeles Dodgers. That too should forever be Bryant's.
I'm going to take the coward's way out, but I also think it's the most logical and only way the Lakers should handle this: Retire both No. 24 and 8. Done. Simple. Let's be honest with ourselves, both of those numbers will forever be linked to Kobe Bryant, and there's absolutely no need for them to still exist once he hangs it all up for good.
I know it's unorthodox, and no other player has two numbers retired with a franchise, but I don't see the harm in letting Kobe do it. Would he get his jersey retired for everything he did while wearing No. 8? Yep. What about when he was wearing No. 24? Yep. It seems simple enough of a process to me. There should never be another player wearing either of those numbers in purple and gold again. Kobe Bryant is it.
The Lakers are among the stingiest franchises in the NBA when it comes to raising banners, so it stands to reason they will extend that same attitude towards retiring jerseys and only hang one jersey for Kobe when he calls it quits. And if it's only one jersey, no. 24 is the clear choice. Even though Kobe had more titles and finals appearances - and the 81 game - wearing no. 8, he's been the indisputable face of the franchise during his time as no. 24, as opposed to when he shared the spotlight with Shaq during the first half of his career. In a way, Kobe's no. 8 era is already immortalized in Staples Center - it just looks more like a 34 with the name "O'Neal" on the back.
Most of Kobe's greatest personal successes came while wearing 24: the 2008 MVP award, 2009 and 2010 Finals MVPs, passing Jerry West to become the Lakers' all-time leading scorer, and of course, passing Michael Jordan to become the third-leading scorer in league history. Kobe will retire as arguably the greatest Laker ever, but it still would seem awkward to have two jerseys for one player, even if it is Kobe. Ultimately, I don't think any future Laker would want to wear #8, and even then, the Laker brass will probably steer players away from that number, unless another once-in-a-generation talent comes along.
*And as for Kevin Durant, his #35 couldn't fit more perfectly in Laker lore - it falls right in line after Magic, Kareem and Shaq.