He wasn’t the inspiration for the logo – he couldn’t have been, not at that time, nor under those circumstances. That was inevitably going to be the territory of less outspoken, likely fairer-skinned players, the kind who bowed knee to the ownership class and played into media narratives about themselves at a time when the league needed characters.
Even after eleven championships as a player, including two as the first Black head coach of a team in the four major North American men’s sports, Bill Russell was never destined to be what the league wanted the logo to be. By the time of its introduction in 1969, Russ, who passed away Sunday at the age of 88, was already so much more.
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?
Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes
of the earth will wail.
We knew this was coming. It was written, and now it shall be done. The general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers, Mitch Kupchak, predicted this a year ago. With a quasi-poem in the Players’ Tribune, Kobe Bean Bryant, arguably the most intense and focused human being ever to walk this planet, let alone play this sport, announced his retirement from the NBA, effective at the conclusion of this season. In light of his throwback, 31-point performance, including a game-sealing shot, let’s take a moment to celebrate one of the greatest, and most divisive, players ever.