Lakers, Los Angeles celebrate Kobe Bryant's jersey retirement in style

Kobe Bryant’s legacy is not a simple one.

There were championships (five of them). There was drama on the court (see Shaquille O’Neal). There was controversy off the court (see Colorado).

It was a career that inspired great debate from beginning to end.

Will he surpass MJ? Who’s more important to the Lakers, Kobe or Shaq? Is Kobe or LeBron James the best player in the game? Is Bryant, in retirement, the greatest Los Angeles Laker ever?

Some of those debates have been settled.

Magic Johnson did his best to put the latter to bed when he introduced Bryant at halftime of Monday’s Lakers matchup with the Golden State Warriors.

“We’re here to celebrate the greatest who’s ever worn purple and gold,” Johnson said to a Staples Center crowd spilling onto the floor.

Others rage on amongst Lakers die-hards and hoops-heads (We see you, too, Kobe stans). But what is not up for debate is simple; Kobe Bryant’s remarkable skills, assassin’s mentality and unsurpassed legacy of competitiveness have left an indelible mark on the history of the game and the city of Los Angeles.

And that was on full display Monday night as stars and fans flocked to see their beloved Bryant retire not one, but two jerseys in the Staples Center rafters alongside others greats Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain.

Shaq, Magic, Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Derek Fisher, Jerry West, James Worthy, Elgin Baylor, Allen Iverson and, of course, Jack Nicholson were all in the building, while ticket prices resembled an NBA Finals market more than a December NBA game.

“To now be a part of that wall means everything to me,” Bryant told reporters before the ceremony. “I think legacy is really important, in a sense of what we’ve done is awesome. But I think what’s more important for a legacy is how that affects the next generation to come.

“The jerseys that are hanging in the rafters now, the impact that they’ve had on me, which led to us being in this moment right here and now. I think that’s the true mark of a legacy, is how it impacts the next generation.”

Kobe Bryant eventually settled the debate about whether No. 8 or No. 24 carried a better legacy. (AP)
Kobe Bryant eventually settled the debate about whether No. 8 or No. 24 carried a better legacy. (AP)

The debate that was still buzzing ahead of the ceremony was a fun one for Lakers fans. Which Kobe was better? No. 8 or No. 24? The numbers stack up remarkably close.

Bryant wore No. 8 for 10 seasons, compiling eight All-Star nods, 16,866 points and three NBA championships, the latter coming all alongside Shaq.

He wore No. 24 for 10 seasons, compiling 10 All-Star nods, 16,777 points and two NBA championships that both came with Finals MVP honors.

When asked which number he believes carries a stronger legacy, he brought jokes.

“Eight has something that 24 will never ever ever ever have,” Bryant said. “And that’s the ability to grow hair.”

When pressed, though, he settled on 24, citing the satisfaction from physical challenges the game presented as he grew older and the NBA Finals battles against the Boston Celtics. Here’s guessing those last two titles that left him with one more than Shaq has something to do with that answer too.

So while the argument over his jersey numbers, like much else with Bryant, is not an easy one to settle, Monday wasn’t about debate. Monday was a celebration of one of the game’s and the city of Los Angeles’ all-time greats.

It was a show and an honor worthy of Kobe Bryant.