The Lakers used to wait until a player was actually elected into the hall of fame* before raising their jersey to the rafters and retiring their number. It worked like that…well, forever.
Magic, Kareem, Worthy, Wilt — all of them had to wait until after their election to Springfield took place before they saw their number lifted in the Fabulous Forum. There was even Gail Goorich’s #25 going up into the rafters in the mid-90’s (long after his playing career ended, but shortly after his HOF election) prompting Eddie Jones to have to change his number to #6 after sporting Goodrich’s #25 for his first two seasons.
The team broke this tradition in recent years with Shaq. And they will do it again this season for Kobe, according to TMZ. Seems those two will always be linked in Lakers lore for one reason or another, but I digress.
On December 18th, before the Lakers face the Warriors, Kobe will have his jersey anointed with his fellow Lakers greats. He’ll join a legendary crew of players whose accomplishments litter the NBA record books and all-time rankings, but could also stand alone in a unique way.
There is still a possibility that Kobe has more than one number go up.
#8 vs. #24 is a debate that rages on and one that there really is not a great answer to. He spent 10 years in each number and his accomplishments while wearing both are HOF worthy on their own. Championship glory, playoff and regular season dominance, individual accolades. Kobe did it all in both and, in reality, both numbers should go up.
My guess, though, is that only one does and that it will be #24. That is the number most associated with Kobe now, if for no other reason than recency. Either way, though, whatever number that goes up, Kobe knows no one is ever to likely wear the one that is not retired again.
In any event, circle December 18th on your calendar. Because if these reports are true, it will give fans one of the last official chances to celebrate Kobe Bryant for all he did for the Lakers franchise. Up next after that, his statue unveiling…
*This is a chance to bring up another debate that comes up every now and again — should the Lakers retire the jerseys of non-HOF players? There are a litany of role-players who were major contributors to title winning teams who, for all extents and purposes, were the types of players who exemplified what it meant to be a Laker or whose careers for the team are so woven into the fabric of the franchise’s success they are synonymous with the organization. Michael Cooper and Derek Fisher are two names which come up most often, but Byron Scott, Robert Horry, Rick Fox, Kurt Rambis, and others also deserve mention here. I don’t have a great answer to this question, but I think it’s a worthy debate.
On the one hand, I like the exclusivity the Lakers use to determine whose jerseys are commemorated. It’s not like the Celtics who, with their own storied history, have taken so many numbers out of their rotation that current players really are choosing from leftovers not worn by former high level contributors. On the other hand, though, I think it would be cool to see Coop’s #21 up there next to Magic, Kareem, and Worthy’s to complete the “Showtime” look. I also wouldn’t mind seeing Fisher’s #2 up there next to Kobe’s jersey — two players drafted the same year and whose leadership over their careers helped establish and maintain the culture of winning the organization prides itself on.
UPDATE: Seems Kobe will have both numbers retired.
As I wrote above, this is how it should be. Kobe played 10 years in each number and, on their own, each 10 year stretch could be seen as HOF worthy. In his first 10 years he scored 16,866 points, was a top contributor to three championship teams (right with Shaq) and teams that went to 4 Finals, made the all-star game every year the game was held except his rookie season — and was the MVP of the game once, made one of the 3 All-NBA teams 8 times (4 1st Teams), and made one the of 2 All-Defensive Teams 6 times (4 1st Teams).
In his 2nd 10 years, he scored 16,777 points, was the best player on two championship teams and teams that went to three straight Finals, won a league MVP award, was an All-Star 10 times — and was the MVP of the game 4 times, made one of the 3 All-NBA teams 7 times (all 1st Team), and made one of the two All-Defensive teams 6 times (5 1st Teams). One can argue how deserving some of those final All-Defensive team nods were, and fine. Go ahead. But picking at that would be pretty silly when looking at his overall list of accomplishments. Dude was clearly one of the best players in the league over his final 10 seasons and, for every season before his achilles ruptured, the best shooting guard (sorry Dwyane Wade — I love you, man).
So, yeah. Retire both numbers. It’s as it should be.