What Number Should Kobe Bryant Retire As?

From this day forward in the City of Los Angeles, August 24th (8/24) will be known as Kobe Bryant Day after it was approved by the City Council. One of the greatest debates in sports history is the question of who made who: Shaq or Kobe. It’s a valid argument, seeing as both were incredible together during the Lakers early 2000’s run; while both won rings apart from one another. Another one of the greatest sports debates is who is the best Laker of all time, and where Kobe is on that list. Some members on the list include Kareem, Magic, Jerry West, Shaq, and Kobe. There’s so many on that list that it can go a few different ways. Now, here is one more debate to add to the list; was Kobe Bryant better as #8 or as #24?

Pick a Player

10 years-16,866 points, 3,148 assists, 3,634 rebounds ~ 3 rings, 8x All-Star 23.9 PPG

10 years-16,777 points, 3,158 assists, 3,413rebounds~ 2 rings, 10x All-Star 26.3 PPG

I know it’s pretty easy to look at those and say the top player without question. But I imagine you’d say the number one reason is that the top player won one more ring than the bottom one. But here’s where the debate starts to get interesting, and there’s a lot of different things to it…

-Kobe as 8 had Shaq and 3 rings

-Kobe as 24 won two rings on his own

-The answer to this question may be decided by what generation you remember Kobe as; if you were a 90’s kid like me you remember Kobe as 8, with the Jordan-like moves and the afro. If you were born a little bit later, you may have always remembered the Mamba as 24, with his bald head and the clutch shots.
-Shaq never won a ring before Kobe came along
– Shaq won a ring when he left for Miami
– Shaq was about to be in his prime when he joined the Lakers during Kobe’s rookie year in 96′-97′ season
– They didn’t win their first ring until Kobe just entered his prime in the 99′-00′ season (where they won three straight)
-Shaq won MVP all three Finals with Kobe

I’m not trying to address the who made who question, but more towards the what number Kobe question. You can go on for days about who made who, because the primes were different and they are completely opposite but dominant players at different positions. When you think of 8 Kobe, you think of Legendary Kobe. When you think of 24 Kobe, you think of All-Star Kobe. But in the 99′-00′ season, Shaq had his best year in his career, by averaging 29.7 PPG and 13.6 RPG; while Kobe averaged 22.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG and 4.9 APG. Once Shaq officially entered his Prime in the 99′-00′ season, they (Kobe) won their first ring. The next year they both averaged almost 28.5 PPG and won the second of an eventual 3-Peat.

Let’s give Lou Bega and his “Mambo No. 5” a little love here…

Mamba #1

The first ring that Kobe (and Shaq) won came in the 99′-00′ season against Chris Mullin and Reggie Miller’s Indiana Pacers. The first game of the Series, Shaq posted an impressive 43 points and 19 rebounds in a 104-87 beatdown. He then backed that up with a 40 point, 24 rebound night to put the Lakers up 2-0. The Lakers won two of the next three, where Shaq posted 33/13, 36/21, 35/11. In the Final game to win their first ring, Shaq put up 41 and 12. Throughout the Series, Shaq averaged 38.0 PPG, 16.7 RPG and 2.7 BPG; while Kobe averaged 15.6 PPG, 4.6 RPG, and 4.2 APG. Shaq shot close to 61% while Kobe shot around 36%.

It’s safe to say that prime Shaq won Kobe his first ring.

Mamba #2

The second ring that Kobe (and Shaq) won came the next year in the 00′-01′ season against Allen Iverson and Dikembe Mutombo’s Philadelphia 76ers. Again, Shaq got off to a crazy start with 44 points and 20 rebounds in an OT loss. The next game, Kobe posted 31 points while Shaq put up 20 rebounds and 9 assists to even the series. Game 3 was Kobe and his 32 points, while Game 4 was Shaq and his 34 points and 14 rebounds. Game 5 also belonged to Shaq, posting 29/13. It seemed a little more even between the two the second year as Kobe was nearing his prime, as Shaq averaged 33.0 PPG, 15.8 RPG, and 3.4 BPG with Kobe’s 24.6 PPG, 7.8 RPG, and 5.8 APG.This is when the dynasty started.

Mamba #3

The third ring that Kobe (and Shaq) won came with their 3-peat in the 01′-02′ season against Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin’s New Jersey Nets. In a complete sweep of the Nets, Shaq averaged 36.3 PPG, 12.3 RPG and 2.8 BPG. Kobe had one dominant game in Game 3 with 36 points to finish with 26.8 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 5.3 APG. Kobe shot awesome this year, over 51%, while Shaq just shot under 60%. Center’s FG% should always be way higher due to their high percentage shots and dunk opportunities that they get. The fact Kobe shot that well showed just how good the two of them were; but more toward just how dominant Shaq really was during this stretch of time.

Mamba #4

The fourth ring that Kobe won by himself came in the 08′-09′ season against Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu’s Orlando Magic. Coming off of a finals loss to the Boston Celtics, Kobe, Pau Gasol and company bounced back to push away the Magic 4-1 in a dominating MVP performance by Kobe. He averaged 32.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 7.4 APG , 1.4 SPG, and 1.4 BPG. Pau chipped in with 18.6 PPG and 9.2 RPG, but was absolutely nothing like what Kobe had when he played with Shaq. This was the first time, especially after the season before that Kobe proved himself that he doesn’t need Shaq to win a championship. The problem is that Shaq already grabbed his on his own title with Miami in 2006 before Kobe did.

Mamba #5

The fifth ring that Kobe won by himself came the next year in the 09′-10′ season against Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett’s Boston Celtics. Kobe got his revenge against the Celtics “Big 3” in an epic 7 game series. He put up 30 points to take Game 1, but struggled in Game 2’s loss; only to bounce back to win Game 3 with 29 points. Bryant put up 33 and 38 the next 2 games which both resulted in losses. But his 26 and 23 in the final two games were enough to come back and sneak by the Celtics with terrific defense to finally get his revenge from the 08′ season. He ended up averaging 28.6 PPG, 8.0 RPG, and 3.9 APG.

Well that was fun. As you can see, that almost kind of put the who made who argument to rest. I really didn’t want to answer that question or bring the Mamba down, because this blog is all about him. What number should he end up retiring as? The history and his legacy live in the 8 jersey. But his stardom and prime came after that in the 24. His best year ironically enough was his last year wearing the number 8; averaging 35.4 PPG.

Let’s try to break it down…

8

A young Kobe Bryant with that fro I was talking about rocked No. 8.  When most people think of Kobe, it’s usually with the names like Bird, Magic, Jordan, LeBron etc. I don’t feel that vibe when I think of 24 Kobe. Now granted he came back on the Celtics in 2010, but besides that he beat a crappy Orlando Magic team with Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis as the best players besides Dwight Howard. It’s a shock the Magic even won a game, because everyone thought they would get swept like the Lakers did to the Nets a few years earlier (as 8). Kobe as 8 went after the best. He played MJ in his prime. He played Mutombo and Iverson in the finals. He beat Reggie Miller, one of the best shooters of all time in his prime. It’s vintage Kobe when you see him in an 8 uniform. But let’s look at some numbers

10 years
16,866 points
3,148 assists
3,634 rebounds
3 rings (0 Finals MVPs)
8x All-Star
23.9 PPG

The first 10 years of his career, he only played a full 82 game season once. He only eclipsed the 80 game mark three times, as he didn’t start his first two years. The 23.9 PPG in the 10 years as #8 is definitely not the best depiction of Kobe, seeing as his first year he averaged 7.6 PPG and then 15.4 PPG the next year. Even the year after that he didn’t quite reach the 20 PPG mark with 19.9 PPG, but in his 4th year (the year they won the first of their 3-Peat); he averaged 22.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG, and 4.9 APG.

When you add a guy with almost 23/6/5 to Shaq in his prime; it’s gonna call for guaranteed championships. At the same time, as you have to add in the 7.6 PPG to the 23.9 PPG average in 10 years; you have to add the 35.4 career high PPG he had in his last season as 8 to make that number go up and even it out. Kobe’s average while wearing 8 was 23.9 PPG, 5.7 PPG and 5.2 APG.

Incredible stuff from Kobe, this put him with some of the most elite names in the history of the game.

24

Mamba as 24 perfected his shot more. As 8, his rebounds and assists were higher. Once he perfected those, he figured why not switch it up and change my number so my PPG and field goal percentage go up. As 24, he lost to the Celtics in the Finals to only bounce back and win back to back seasons; including beating the Celtics in the second season to get their revenge. He played three full 82 game seasons, and only played in 70 or more games 3 other times out of the 10 years as #24. Even with the 26.3 PPG he averaged in his last 10 years as 24, he only played 6 games in the 13′-14′ season, and 35 games in the 14′-15′ season. He averaged less minutes and had a better three point field goal percentage as 24. He did have 1 less ring than when he wore 8, but he did those on his own and without Shaq at least.

Plus, Kobe has 5 rings compared to Shaq’s 4. It’s safe to say Shaq was an absolute monster between 2000-2006; as he won 4 rings in that time between two teams. Kobe became a more sharpshooting oriented player in his later years, as his free throw attempts went down and his shooting categories (three point FG% and regular FG%) went up. Let’s check his numbers

10 years
16,777 points
3,158 assists
3,413 rebounds
2 rings (2 Finals MVPs)
10x All-Star
26.3 PPG

In 639 games as #24 (He averaged more points than he did in 707 games as #8)Obviously this makes sense, as the more opportunities you get the more you have to produce,but the fact some of those numbers look so close with a difference of 68 games speaks to just how good he was as #24.

-He only had 89 less points in 68 less games.
-He had 10 more assists in 68 less games
-He only had 221 less rebounds in 68 less games.

Those are all crazy stats when you see them. First, you see in 68 less games as number 24 as he was number 8; he only scored 89 less points. Second, you see he already had 10 more assists in 68 less games. Then you see he only had 221 less rebounds in 68 less games. All incredible. If #24 Kobe wanted to catch #8 Kobe statistically; he would only have to average 1.3 PPG, 3.2 RPG and 0 APG in 68 games.

Overall

The debate will go on forever as to which number Kobe should have gone into the Hall of Fame as. If he picks 8, he’s going with his legacy. His MJ matchups, his Shaq 3-Peat, his incredible moves. If he picks 24, he’s going with his perception. His clutch shots, his back-to-back Finals’ MVPs, and his stardom. If you’re a fan of the old school NBA, you would love to see Kobe go in as #8. That picture with him and Michael Jordan almost gives you goosebumps every time you look at it. If you want to say Shaq made #8 Kobe and he’d be nothing without him, that’s fine  or if you want to say #24 Kobe would be nothing without the previous existence of #8 Kobe, that’s fine too. Whatever side you fall on here with Kobe, you have to appreciate his greatness and his talent no matter what.

Kobe as 8 was fantastic and so was Kobe as 24. As 8, he was a more talented player but relied a lot on Shaq; whereas 24 he was more of a shooter and realized that he had to be “The Guy.” The stats show that no matter which way he chooses, he chose the right way (and also the wrong one). Both are such good options, and it’s very rare we get to see a situation like this. It’s also very rare that we get to watch a basketball player like Kobe Bryant too.

So with that I say thank you Mamba, for all you have brought to the NBA; and may you enjoy your life outside of basketball with your five rings.

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