I love The Diesel, but he's running on empty with this one.
Although I understand where Shaq is coming from, considering the first number Bryant wore was 8 and that was the digit he was rocking when the Lakers won three straight NBA titles with him from 2000-02. But there's no way Bryant should retire 8 over 24 with the Lakers and I'll tell you why.
As unbelievable as Kobe was back in the day, helping O'Neal to lead the Lakers to a three-peat to start this century, he's got to put No. 24 in the rafters at Staples Center because that's when the Black Mamba spewed venom in the form of ultimate determination like never before. Let me explain.
Switching from No. 8 to 24 to start the 2006-07 NBA season, Bryant was two years removed from not playing with O'Neal. The results?
The Lakers finished with 34 wins, failing to make the playoffs in 2005 and were eliminated in a seven-game, first round series against the Dallas Mavericks in 2006.
With those shortcomings—or even before, now to think back on it—Kobe heard all of the haters and doubters say that he would never win another title in purple and gold without Shaq. Making matters worse, O'Neal led his new squad, the Miami Heat, to a league title that year in 2006.
That offseason, Bryant ditched No. 8 for No. 24 to enter the 2006-07 season, and despite leading the league in scoring with 31.6 points per game, his Lakers again were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs — this time by the Phoenix Suns in five games.
The chatter about Bryant not being able to win without Shaq only grew and it really hit the fan the next year, when the Black Mamba led his Lakers to the 2008 NBA Finals, but they fell to their rival Boston Celtics in six games.
But the Mamba would bite back and show he had plenty of venom left in his game, making sure that he not only led the Lakers to another ring without Shaq, but two, via back-to-back championships from 2009-10—first blasting the Orlando Magic in five games, before extracting revenge on the Celtics in a grueling seven-game series win. Greatness personified.
Kobe more than silenced his haters by proving he could win without Shaq. He also proved he could win it all without the big man—not only once, but twice. If that's not greatness, I don't know what is.
That's the reason he should put the No. 24—and not 8—in the rafters. There were no other questions that needed to be asked following that 2009 title win, really. Whatever lingering hate remained for Kobe turned into acceptance that we were all witnessing one of the greatest to ever play this game.
The fact he put the icing on the cake with a fifth ring makes it that much more sweet.
Twenty-four over 8.
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(Photos from left: Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images, Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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