Kobe Bryant wore both numbers throughout his legendary 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers
When he made his debut with the team in 1996, after being drafted straight out of high school, Bryant started out with No. 8. “When I first came in at 8, is really trying to ‘plant your flag’ sort of thing,” Bryant told ESPN in 2017, shortly before the Lakers retired both of jersey numbers 8 and 24.
As for why he chose the single-digit number, Bryant, who died on Jan. 26 in a helicopter crash, had two reasons.
No. 8 was not only a nod to the number he wore as a young boy while playing in Italy — where his family lived while his father, former NBA player Joe Bryant, continued his professional career — but also, he wore No. 8 at the youth training camp Adidas ABCD camp, where he wore no. 143, which adds up to eight.
However, at the start of the 2006-2007 season, it was time for a change.
“I started new,” Bryant told ESPN, explaining that part of the reason for the change came about after teammate Shaquille O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat in 2004.
Although he initially hoped to change to No. 24 immediately, the deadline had passed so he had to wait, according to the outlet.
Just like with his previous pick, his second jersey number was also a nod to his past, as he wore No. 24 in high school.
“24 is a growth,” Bryant explained. “Physical attributes aren’t there the way they used to be, but the maturity level is greater. Marriage, kids. Start having a broader perspective being one of the older guys on the team now, as opposed to being the youngest.”
The switch also helped keep him motivated to take each day as it came.
“It’s a new book, 24 — 24 is every day. Because when you get older, your muscles start getting sore. Body starts aching. You show up to practice that day, you have to remind yourself, ‘OK, this day is the most important day. I got to push through this soreness. My ankles are tight, they won’t get loose. I got to go through it, because this is the most important day.’ So, 24 also helped me from a motivational standpoint,” Bryant added.
Before taking the court on Friday for the first time since the fatal crash, which also claimed the lives of the NBA star’s 13-year-old Gianna Bryant and seven others, the Los Angeles Lakers paid tribute to the late athlete.
In addition to laying out one of Bryant’s two jerseys on each seat in the stadium, two courtside seats were left open in honor of Bryant and his daughter.
In a particularly moving moment that had all the crowd on their feet, the Lakers starting lineup was introduced as “Kobe Bryant,” and each player wore a Bryant jersey, along with “KB” patches on one arm and a black band on the other to honor all nine victims of the crash.
“As I look around this arena, we’re all grieving,” he said tearfully. “Everybody that’s here, this is really truly a family…now, I know at some point we will have a memorial for Kobe… but I look at this as a celebration tonight. This is a celebration of the blood, sweat and tears… the determination to be as great as he could be.”
“In the words of Kobe Bryant, ‘Mamba out,’ but in the words of us, ‘not forgotten,’ ” James concluded. “Live on brother.”