LOS ANGELES (AP) – Although Kobe Bryant has been asked many times, he still isn’t sure who would win a mystical game of one-on-one between the young Kobe in his No. 8 Lakers jersey and his older self, who wore No. 24.
“I kind of go back and forth,” Bryant said with a sly grin. “But 8 has something that 24 will never, ever, ever have, and that’s the ability to grow hair.”
The Lakers couldn’t choose, either. So they honored both eras of Kobe’s incredible career.
In an NBA first, the Lakers on Monday night retired both jersey numbers worn by Bryant, the leading scorer in franchise history.
Bryant attended the Lakers’ game against the Golden State Warriors for a halftime ceremony at Staples Center, which was packed with fans eager to bear witness once again to the beloved superstar scorer. Dozens of Bryant’s former teammates showed up, including Shaquille O’Neal and Derek Fisher, along with the Lakers’ usual cavalcade of celebrity fans.
“I feel great,” Bryant said after entering Staples Center while pushing a stroller containing Bianka Bella Bryant, his infant daughter. “I’m very proud I get to come here with my family. It feels good as a father to have my family come in and share this.”
Bryant is the 10th player with a retired jersey for the 16-time NBA champion Lakers. His numbers were revealed high on the Staples Center wall, flanking the banner honoring Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn.
“It’s not about the jerseys that are hanging up there for me,” Bryant told the cheering crowd. “It’s about the jerseys that were hanging up there before. They inspired me to play the game at a high level.”
Magic Johnson and Lakers owner Jeanie Buss gave brief tributes to Bryant at halftime, with Magic boldly declaring, “We’re here to celebrate the greatest who ever wore the purple and gold.”
Buss cleverly explained the reasoning behind the Lakers’ decision to hang two jersey numbers for Bryant: “If you separated each of the accomplishments under those numbers, each of those players would qualify for the Hall of Fame.’’
“I thank you for staying loyal to the purple and gold and remaining a Laker for life when it might have been easier for you to leave,” Buss added.
Along with Bryant’s 33,643 points, the five-time NBA champion and 18-time All-Star selection also leads the Lakers in games played (1,346), 3-pointers (1,827), steals (1,944) and free throws (8,378). Bryant is the third-leading scorer in league history.