The Los Angeles Lakers have a storied history with countless superstars donning the purple and gold. There’s a legitimate argument over who is the greatest player in franchise history, but the late Kobe Bryant is certainly in the discussion for guys who belong in the mix.
On Dec. 18, 2017, the Lakers retired two jersey numbers on the same night. Those jerseys were for the same player, one who played for the franchise for 20 years and delivering five championships along the way. Kobe Bryant was privileged with the rare honor of having two jerseys, numbers 8 and 24, retired under his name.
Prior to Bryant, no NBA player had ever had two jersey numbers sent up to the rafters by the same team. He wore the No. 8 jersey from the 1996-97 season to 2005-06, and then wore No. 24 from 2006-07 until the 2015-16 season.
In that final year, the Lakers were already thinking of Bryant’s retirement prior to the season ending. The front office was mulling over which of his two jerseys to retire or if they would retire both of them. During a season ticket holder event in 2015, Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak spoke about the possibilities via the Los Angeles Times’ Eric Pincus.
“I don’t know the answer,” he said. “Obviously it’s going to be 8, 24, or it could be both.”
Since Bryant played Hall-of-Fame type careers in each jersey number, the Lakers decided to retire both of them according to Lakers owner Jeanie Buss explained.
“If you separated each of the accomplishments under those numbers, each of those players would qualify for the Hall of Fame,” she said.
Here are Bryant’s stats under each jersey number:
No. 8: 23.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.6 blocks
No. 24: 26.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.3 blocks
Bryant isn’t the first to wear the two numbers for the Lakers, as there have been others who wore them before him from as far back as the early years of the league. None of them came anywhere close to the historic career that Bryant had. Three other former players wore No. 8 for the Lakers and 21 wore No. 24 for the Purple & Gold.
We take a look at the careers that some of these players had, detailing some of their stories while giving a sneak peek at the careers of others through their stats. We also look at Bryant’s career under each jersey number.
NOTE: All screenshot statistics are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.
Lakers players who wore No. 8
Jim Brewer 1980-1982
Jim Brewer’s most notable basketball contribution is playing in the 1972 Summer Olympics. That U.S. team suffered a controversial loss to the Soviet Union in the gold medal game that led to the boycott in the 1980 Olympics.
Outside of that, there’s not much to speak of from his time with Los Angeles. He only played two seasons with the Lakers, averaging under 14 minutes per game. Furthermore, as you can tell from the above image, he wasn’t exactly known as a dude who would score a lot of points.
While he entered the fray right after Magic Johnson came to down, he was never really a member of the famed Showtime Lakers.
Doug Christie 1992-94
Christie played only two seasons with the Lakers. In fact, he enjoyed his best years with the Sacramento Kings.
He was expected to play as a big point guard, but that didn’t work out too well for L.A. which led to him being traded to the Knicks in 1994.
Christie, who did end up having a good career from an overall standpoint, was a glorified blip on the radar while in LaLa Land.
Randolph Keys 1994-95
Kobe Bryant 1996-2006
Though he wore number 24 and 33 in high school, Bryant couldn’t wear either of them because 24 was the jersey number of George McCloud, who wore it during Bryant’s rookie season, and 33 was retired by the Lakers in honor of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Hall-of-Fame career.
“In high school I started out with number 24,” Bryant said. “Then I went to number 33 later on. 33 was the number my father wore in high school, so I just switched it to carry on the lineage.”
In an ESPN piece from Baxter Holmes, Bryant choice of No. 8 for his Lakers jersey number is explained.
“Bryant began his NBA career in 1996 by wearing No. 8, the number he wore in Italy and also a nod to the number he wore at the Adidas ABCD Camp, 143, whose digits add up to 8.”
Additionally, he wore number 8 in Italian leagues during his younger years, which made it easier for him to be comfortable wearing it.
Bryant’s first 10 years in the league were marked by a lot of learning and plenty of youthful exuberance. There’s a lot of experimentation, training and wanting to “be like Mike,” too. In his last year as a Chicago Bull, Michael Jordan was peppered by questions from a young and hungry Bryant whenever they were matched-up, which didn’t happen too often since they belonged to different conferences.
As soon as he was able to break down Jordan’s tools and mannerisms to their basic components, Bryant used them in his game which made him move, act and even celebrate like his idol.
As number 8, the former Lakers star scored 16,777 points, highlighted by a career-high 35.4 points per game average in his final year wearing it during the 2005-06 season. That’s the year when Bryant scored 81 points, the second-highest point total in league history.
Here are a few things that Bryant achieved early on while rocking the No. 8 in The Undefeated piece by Justin Tinsley and Aaron Dodson:
“In his No. 8, Bryant set the Rookie Game scoring record with 31 points (a record that stood until 2004, when Amar’e Stoudemire and LeBron James dropped 36 and 33 points, respectively, in the Rising Stars game). But [Allen] Iverson was named MVP of the contest (and later Rookie of the Year). Bryant won the dunk contest that All-Star weekend, with Brandy cheering him on, but he missed out on topping Iverson and longed for the freedom it seemed Iverson had in Philly. The 76ers’ offense revolved around No. 3’s rare talents. Bryant was with Shaquille O’Neal, Eddie Jones and Nick Van Exel. He scored 20-plus points only four times in his rookie year. The Lakers did make the playoffs in Kobe’s first season, though, while the Sixers won only 22 games.”
He also had his best team success when he played with Shaquille O’Neal from his rookie year to the 2003-04 season where he earned three championship rings from winning the title three consecutive years.
Lakers players who wore No. 24
Herm Schaefer 1948-50
Dick Schnittker 1953-58
Walter Dukes 1956-57
Bo Erias 1957-58
Bobby Smith 1959-60, 1961-62
Gary Alcorn 1960-61
Bob Sims 1961-62
Ron Horn 1962-63
John Wetzel 1967-68
Keith Erickson 1968-1973
Kermit Washington 1973-1978
Washington is infamous for the punch that nearly cost the life of a fellow NBA player. Too bad, because he was a pretty good role player for the Lakers. Known simply as “The Punch,” the power forward landed the most vicious knock down ever thrown in sports history.
On Dec. 9, 1977, Washington punched the Rockets’ Rudy Tomjanovich so hard that a pool of blood was seen on the floor almost immediately following the hit. It changed the NBA and the lives of the two players involved in the incident.
ABC News explained how the horrifying blow threatened Tomjanovich’s life.
“Tomjanovich, who crumpled to the floor, almost died that night of injuries that were akin to being thrown from a car going 50 miles per hour. His skull was dislocated and spinal fluid was leaking from his brain. He recalled being able to taste the fluid in his mouth.”
Both players’ careers were never the same after that.
The NBA responded by suspending Washington for 60 days (26 games missed) and was fined $10,000. The forward was traded to four different teams after. Tomjanovich was out for five months and reached All-Star status two years later.
ABC News concluded its report with the two players eventually reconciling.
“Washington has struggled to leave ‘the punch’ behind. His NBA career faltered after that night in 1977, and despite his resume filled with positive credentials, that one negative remains. His hope for an NBA coaching position never materialized.
But he has the forgiveness of the man who now calls him his friend: Tomjanovich. What once seemed inexcusable has long ago been forgiven. Tomjanovich now calls Washington his ‘brother.’
‘This is no big deal that I just forgave Kermit or anything,’ Tomjanovich said. ‘That happened a long time ago.’”
Ron Boone 1978-1980
Butch Carter 1980-81
Carter played six years in the league, but only one year with the Lakers franchise.
He is perhaps best known for being Vince Carter’s first coach in the NBA when he was with the Toronto Raptors. From a dismal 16-66 record two years prior, the Raptors coach led his team to the playoffs with a 45–37 record and the young team’s first playoff appearance in the 1999-2000 season.
Adrian Branch 1986-87
The former Maryland star lasted less than four years in the league. He was a member of Magic Johnson’s Showtime Lakers for one year and earned a championship ring. He was used sparingly and often only when the Lakers had a sizable lead in the fourth quarter.
He bounced around three other teams afterwards.
Steve Bucknall 1989-90
George Lynch 1993-96
Lynch led the University of North Carolina to an NCAA title in 1993. The Lakers drafted him with the 12th overall pick in that year’s draft. He wore three different jersey numbers for the team, including Bryant’s now retired No. 24.
He wasn’t a star for the Lakers or for any of the other teams he played for, but he was an excellent defensive player.
Lloyd Daniels 1994-95
Fred Roberts 1995-96
George McCloud 1996-97
McCloud is an outstanding three-point shooter but only played 23 games for the Lakers during the 1996-97 season. He is significant only to the Lakers as he prevented Bryant from wearing the No. 24 right out of the draft since it was McCloud’s jersey number.
Shea Seals 1997-98
Jim Jackson 2006
Jackson had a promising career in the NBA as a big guard, someone who had the potential to be a superstar in the league. Chosen by the Dallas Mavericks with the fourth overall pick of the 1992 draft, Jackson held out for much of the season due to a contract dispute. He only played 28 games in his rookie year.
He averaged a career-high 25.7 points per game in the 1994-95 season, seemingly on the verge of becoming an established star. Alas, he suffered an ankle injury after playing only 51 games and his performance declined slowly but steadily from then on.
When he arrived on the doorsteps of the Lakers franchise, Jackson was already at the end of his career, averaging a career-low 1.7 points per game. He is known in Lakers history as the last player to wear the No. 24 before Bryant.
Kobe Bryant 2006-2016
Bryant’s number change elicited plenty of questions as it appeared as though he was one-upping Jordan who famously wore No. 23. He explained the reasoning for the switch in the aforementioned article by Holmes.
“It’s kind of a clean slate,” he said. “I started new. Just start completely fresh, focus on the number that meant a lot to me.”
Bryant contrasted the two numbers later in the piece.
“‘When I first came in at 8, is really trying to ‘plant your flag’ sort of thing,’ Bryant says. ‘I got to prove that I belong here in this league. I’ve got to prove that I’m one of the best in this league. You’re going after them. It’s nonstop energy and aggressiveness and stuff.
‘Then 24 is a growth from that. 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. Things evolve. It’s not to say one is better than the other or one’s a better way to be. It’s just growth.’
“He adds, ‘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.’”
As No. 24, Bryant scored 16,866 points, eerily similar to his production while wearing No. 8.
Here are a few highlights from Bryant’s career while wearing No. 24:
- Averaged 31.6 points on the heels of his career-high 35.4 average the year before.
- He also played 82 games for the first time in the 2007-08 season and then followed that up with another 82-game season the following year.
- In 2007-08, Bryant won his first and only MVP Award even though he also deserved it much earlier in the 2005-06 season, the year when he averaged his career-high in points but the Phoenix Suns’ Steve Nash won the award for the second straight year.
- He won two championships without Shaq in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons, earning Finals MVP honors both times along the way.
- He was selected to play in 10 All-Star Games, winning MVP honors in 2007, 2009 (tied with Shaq), and 2011.
- He was a member of 5 All-Defensive First Teams and 1 Second Team.
- He was a member of 7 consecutive All-NBA First Teams from 2006-07 to 2012-13.
- Scored 60 points in his final regular season game, the highest points scored by a player in their final game prior to retirement and the oldest player to score 60 or more.
On April 10, 2013, Bryant suffered a torn Achilles tendon in a game against the Golden State Warriors, one which kept him from playing in the playoffs that year. He played in only six games the following season before being injured once more, this time with a lateral tibial plateau fracture in his left knee. He played in only 35 games the next year and then 66 games in his last season in the league.
Regardless of Bryant’s injury-plagued last few seasons, many consider the Black Mamba’s last 10 years better than his first 10. According to Holmes’ article, Bryant himself agreed.
“It’s the season where I ruptured my Achilles, actually,” he said. “Because I felt like I was playing the best basketball I’ve ever played in my entire career.”
“I had to work like a maniac to be there, but I was able to be there,” Bryant recalled. “Mentally, emotionally, I was able to see five, six moves ahead in the game, and all sorta crazy s—.”
According to ESPN’s Darren Rovell, there are other franchises who have retired the number and lifted it up to the rafters.
“Six NBA teams have retired the number: the Boston Celtics (Sam Jones), Golden State Warriors (Rick Barry), Houston Rockets (Moses Malone), New York Knicks (Bill Bradley), Philadelphia 76ers (Bobby Jones) and Phoenix Suns (Tom Chambers).”
Though many have worn the numbers 8 and 24, none of them had the career that Bryant had with the Lakers wearing either of those jerseys. He is only the 10th player in Lakers franchise history to have his jersey retired while, once again, having two jerseys retired. That’s a privilege that only the best players in the game can have the honor of experiencing, a distinction that sets the Black Mamba apart.