Since he announced his retirement, effective at the end of this season, Kobe Bryant has played more like the Kobe of old than the broken shadow he has become. The “Kobe of old” here is the Bean, the player who came off the bench and won a Slam Dunk contest before ever winning a championship. In those days, through 2006 in fact, Kobe sported the number 8.
Since undertaking his own re-branding a decade ago, he has worn the number 24. Like any decent American sporting organization – because this is how we choose to honor our favorite athletes in this country, for better and for worse – the Los Angeles Lakers will eventually hold a jersey retirement ceremony for Kobe. What number they will retire, however, has sparked debate, with Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak saying it could even be both 8 and 24. Plenty of teams have retired the same number for two different players, and plenty of players have had their number retired by multiple teams, but if Kobe has both of his numbers retired by the Lakers, that may set a new precedent.
The question is, if Kobe Bryant is the Greatest Laker Ever™, why stop at just the two numbers he actually wore?
For this experiment, weº are going to retire every single number between 00-99, the standard double-digits allowed on basketball jerseys, with a few exceptions. One, none of that “zero-one” stuff, though we could go ahead and put away 01, 02 and 09 for Lakers championship years if we felt so inclined. Two, any number currently worn by a Laker gets to stay with that Laker, because those dudes have to wear something as a unique identifier. Three, we are going to do our best to stick reasons with each number, no matter how tenuous¹. We can’t just go indiscriminately retiring numbers for the hell of it, because that would be awfully crass, wouldn’t it? Four, all of these numbers are as of this writing and, therefore, subject to change. Finally, the already-retired Lakers numbers stay retired with those players, with one exception. We’ll get to that when we get to it. In a weird twist, both retired players and active players are in italics.
Without further adieu, let’s retire every Los Angeles Lakers number in Kobe’s name:
00 – 2000, the year of the first Lakers championship run with Kobe on board. Also the number of hip-hop albums Kobe released through his record deal with Sony following the disappointment of his 2000 single, “K.O.B.E.”
0 – Nick Young
1 – D’Angelo Russell
2 – Brandon Bass
3 – Anthony Brown
4 – Ryan Kelly
5 – The number of championships with which Kobe will (likely) retire. Or, if the Lakers somehow turn this year’s dumpster fire around, it’s the number of championships Kobe won in the first nineteen seasons of his career.
6 – Jordan Clarkson
7 – Larry Nance, Jr.
8 – Kobe
9 – Marcelo Huertas
10 – Kobe’s Olympic number
12 – The NBA record for three-pointers made in a single game, which Kobe did on January 7, 2003 against the Seattle SuperSonics (R.I.P.). Kobe shares this one with Donyell Marshall.
13 – Wilt Chamberlain
15 – Rounded down from 15.5, the number of two-point attempts Kobe has averaged throughout his career
17 – Roy Hibbert
18 – The age at which Kobe became the youngest player in NBA history to start a game.
19 – The age at which Kobe became the youngest player in NBA history to start an All-Star Game.
20 – The number of seasons Kobe will have played at the end of this one, setting a record for guards as well as a record for seasons played with one team.
21 – Kobe’s career total for triple-doubles, good for thirteenth all-time and third on the active list behind LeBron James and Rajon Rondo
22 – Elgin Baylor
23 – Technically, this is Lou Williams‘ number already so there’s nothing to worry about. However…the Lakers won’t retire 23 because 23 means nothing to Kobe. NOTHING, do you hear me?? ON TO THE NEXT.
24 – Kobe
25 – Gail Goodrich
26 – Kobe’s age-26 season in 2004-’05 was his first year without Shaq, thus being his first chance to lead a team by himself. Coincidentally, he averaged 26 shot attempts a game that year, and the Lakers missed the playoffs.
27 – Beethoven’s Opus number that includes Moonlight Sonata, which Kobe taught himself to play by ear.
28 – Tarik Black
29 – November 29, 2015 was the day Kobe officially announced his retirement from the NBA, effective at the conclusion of the season. Can’t imagine the Lakers having a problem retiring this number in honor of that date.
30 – Julius Randle
31 – The lowest number of minutes Kobe has ever needed to play to surpass 40+ points in a game, which he did three times: back-to-back games against the Nuggets in 2003 and, almost inexplicably, a game against the future champion Warriors in 2014.
32 – Magic Johnson
33 – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
34 – The exception. This is Shaq’s number. We all know it’s Shaq’s number, and the Lakers retired it in 2013. We know Kobe wouldn’t have won those first three championships without Shaq. But we all also know that, at the height of their excellence, Kobe and Shaq weren’t terribly big fans of one another, and we know that the Lakers organization essentially picked Kobe over Shaq. As one final jab in the general direction of his old running mate, Kobe orders Shaq’s number un-retired and has it retired in his name: BRYANT #34.
35 – From 35.4, the rounded average number of points per game with which Kobe led the league in 2005-’06, his highest single-season mark.
36 – Minutes per game average during the 2008-’09 playoffs, which ended in the first post-Shaq championship for Kobe
37 – Metta World Peace
38 – The number of points Kobe scored in a loss to the Clippers on January 4, 2013, notable for being the day he sent out his first tweet. See #48.
39 – Rounded up from 38.7, this is the record for the highest single-season usage rate ever, from the 2005-’06 season, according to basketball-reference.com’s metric.
40 – In millions of dollars, the amount over five years that Nike paid Kobe to steal his shoe rights from Adidas in 2004 (also, hilariously, he bought himself out of his Adidas contract for $8 million).
41 – Number of likes on the comment “Yeah he had that 90’s flow. Good shit, fuck the haters.” on Kobe’s rap video with Tyra Banks.
42 – James Worthy
43 – Russell Westbrook took 43 shots in an April 2015 game, prompting Kobe to rush to his defense with a Liz Lemon meme and this tweet:
44 – Jerry West
45 – Maybe leave this one open in case Kobe decides to come out of retirement.
46 – Kobe’s point total on February 6, 2003 in a game against the Knicks, his second-highest scoring game ever at Madison Square Garden
47 – Career high in field goal attempts, second all-time after MJ. Amazingly, he shot 17-47, or 36%, for 41 points in a three-point overtime loss to the Celtics. The rest of the team shot 20-48.
48 – 48k retweets for Kobe’s first tweet, which was legendary.
49 – Number of likes on the comment “Lmao why the beat sound like a Mexican salsa dance” on Kobe’s rap video with Tyra Banks.
50 – Robert Sacre
51 – The NBA record for most free throws made in a four-game playoff series, which Kobe holds as a result of the second round series against the Sacramento Kings in 2001.
52 – Jamaal Wilkes
53 – The number of years between state championships for Lower Merion (P.A.) High School before Kobe led the team to the title in 1995.
54 – Kobe’s career high in minutes played, which occurred fourteen days apart in December 2006. He scored 53 points or more in each game.
55 – The Lakers record for points scored in a single half. See #81.
56 – The number of 40+ minute games Kobe had during the 2005-’06 season, including 42 in the 81-point game (see #81)
57 – Total two-point field goal attempts during the 2013-’14 season, one in which he played only six games
58 – The highest number of points Kobe has ever scored in a game which the Lakers lost; it happened against the Charlotte Bobcats in three overtimes on December 29, 2006.
59 – .459, Kobe’s field goal percentage during his MVP 2007-’08 season.
60 – The number of minutes per day he ices his knees, split into three sessions of twenty minutes apiece. He also does acupuncture.
61 – Kobe’s career high in Madison Square Garden against the Knicks, accomplished February 2, 2009.
62 – Points scored in a December 20, 2005 game against the Dallas Mavericks, in only 33 minutes of action. It resulted in a points-per-minute ratio of 1.88, the second-highest of his career (see #81)
63 – Points scored in group stage of the 2008 Olympics
64 – Value of the phrase “blackmamba” if played in Scrabble in this particular position, before adding in the 50-point bonus for ten-letter words:
65 – March 16, 2007: Kobe puts up 65 in an overtime win against the Trail Blazers on 23-39 shooting, including 8-12 from three, good for the second-highest scoring night of his career.
66 – The number of games Kobe played for the Lakers in the 1999-’00 season, the first title run.
67 – Kobe’s career-high for blocks in a season, recorded during during the 2002-’03 campaign.
68 – .688, Bryant’s free-throw percentage in a 44-point effort during a loss to the eventual champion Golden State Warriors on November 16, 2014. It is his most recent 40-point game.
69 – .692, Bryant’s three-point percentage (9-13) in a 55-point display during a win over the Washington Wizards on March 28, 2003, by far his highest three-point percentage on that many attempts in a single game. It was Kobe’s final game against his idol, Michael Jordan, who himself scored a cool 23 points, naturally.
70 – Assuming he plays in the remaining three games against them this season, this is Kobe’s number of career starts against the Clippers, more than he has against any other team.
71 – In millions, the first contract extension Kobe signed with the Lakers after his rookie deal.
72 – Days over the age of 18 at which Kobe made his NBA debut in 1996, at the time making him the youngest player in NBA history, a record which both Jermaine O’Neal and former teammate Andrew Bynum have both since surpassed.
73 – The number of games Kobe started and played in the 2009-’10 season, his fifth and final championship run with the Lakers.
74 – The number of steals Kobe amassed in 1997-’98, his final year of coming off the bench and the season in which he made his first All-Star appearance.
75 – The number of games Joe “Jellybean” Bryant played in his rookie season in the NBA with the Philadelphia 76ers, 1975-’76.
76 – 176, the number of total field goals Kobe made in his rookie season with the Lakers.
77 – Out of 77 total Lakers points, Kobe scored 40 in a two-point loss to the Indiana Pacers on November 27, 2012. He also contributed three assists and ten rebounds.
78 – 1978, the year of Kobe’s birth, i.e., the year God gave us heroball in its purest, most complete form.
79 – .797, the field goal percentage of Kobe’s uncle, Chubby Cox, during his junior year at the University of San Francisco, alma mater of Boston Celtics legends Bill Russell and K.C. Jones. Cox also played in the NBA, albeit for one season, with the Washington Bullets.
80 – The 1980-’81 season is the only one in which Joe “Jellybean” Bryant played in all 82 games for his team, in this case the San Diego Clippers.
81 – January 22, 2006: the 81-point drubbing of Jalen Rose and the Toronto Raptors, the modern gold standard for heroball and one-man scoring supremacy. #55 refers to the second half of this game.
82 – On four occasions, the last coming during the 2010-’11 season, Kobe has started and played in all 82 games for the Lakers.
83 – The total number of points Kobe scored during his injury-shortened 2013-’14 season, one in which he played six games but was nevertheless an All-Star.
84 – 1984, the year Joe Bryant moved his family, including Kobe, to Italy.
86 – The combined score (37 in the first round, 49 in the second round) of Kobe’s Slam Dunk Contest in 1997.
87 – .487, which was both Kobe’s field-goal percentage and, remarkably, his efficient field-goal percentage during the 2010-’11 season².
88 – According to Business Insider, this is the lowest margin of victory Kobe ever had in a one-on-one game to 100 against a teammate in high school.
89 – For 1889, the year modern-day Kobe, Japan was founded. The city is famous for its beef, after which Kobe was named when his parents saw it on a steakhouse menu outside Philadelphia.
90 – 1990, the year Gregg Downer became the head boys basketball coach at Lower Merion High School. He remains in that position at the time of this writing.
91 – 1991, the year his father, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant³, retired from professional basketball in Italy, causing the Bryant family to return to the United States, where Kobe began his quest for single-minded annihilation of all things basketball.
92 – 92-42: The Lakers’ record when Kobe scores 40+ in his career.
93 – The number of lost turnovers Kobe had in the 2002-’03 season, the second-highest of his career.
94 – 1894, the year Ardmore, Pennsylvania’s three area schools consolidated, thus becoming Lower Merion High School.
95 – Joe “Jellybean” Bryant’s offensive rating for the in the 1978-’79 season, his last with the Philadelphia 76ers.
96 – 1996, the year the Hornets drafted Kobe and traded him to the Lakers for Vlade Divac – hell, you know what? Let’s have the Hornets retire this one too. I don’t think anyone in either the Hornets or the Pelicans organizations looks back on this fondly.
97 – 1997, the year of the Slam Dunk Contest championship, which happens to be the only one as of this writing which the Lakers have claimed. Kobe really is the best Laker.
98 – In the fall of 1998, Kobe first became a full-time starter for the Lakers. Also the league-leading defensive rating (98.2) of the 1999-’00 Lakers, Kobe’s first championship team.
99 – Kobe may be the greatest Laker ever, but he paid tribute to the greatest athlete ever to play in Los Angeles by wearing Wayne Gretzky’s jersey to a 2002 playoff game:
ºI refer to the royal “we” here because obviously I am in this endeavor with only help from Tyler Lauletta, but if any of you fine readers come up with something else after the fact, I’ll gladly roll back into this post, change it and hand you all of the credit.
¹And make no mistake: we have almost a hundred numbers to try and connect to Kobe’s career. It’s going to get questionable.
²Honestly, not that remarkable, especially given Kobe’s tendency to be a high-volume shooter from inside the arc. Still, though, that’s kind of funny in a “I have that same smartphone case” sort of way.
³I am taking every opportunity to list Joe “Jellybean” Bryant’s full name, and you would too because it is phenomenal.
Special thanks to basketball-reference.com, among the many other sources we used for this article.