The Warriors beat the Lakers 116-114 last night in a game that went to overtime and had multiple highlight reel dunks. But the Baby Lakers nearly knocking off the defending champs was a sidenote. Last night wasn’t about the future. It wasn’t about the growth of Brandon Ingram and the potential of Lonzo Ball, it was all about Kobe Bryant as the Lakers retired his numbers.
Yes, numbers. Because the answer to the question of which jersey would they retire is… both. 8 and 24 went into the rafters at halftime.
But that party started well before halftime and in fact, well before the game. Truthfully, I’m not sure who enjoyed last night more or felt their feelings more last night Kobe or Kobe fans. Because Kobe fans were dominating twitter with their emotions and dominating the street outside Staples with a festival before the game.
Yes, a street festival, complete with a Ferris wheel, Kobe dolls, Kobe shoes, 17-foot inflatable Kobes, Kobe everything. And inside the building, there was more Kobe. Kobe videos, Kobe kicks, the list goes on. The only thing missing was a Kobe Stopper. Except he wasn’t missing either – Ruben Patterson was in the house. Freaking perfect. They thought of everything.
When the Lakers do something, when they pay tribute to one of their legends, they do it big. And they’ve never done it bigger than last night. Then again, they were celebrating five NBA titles, one MVP award, two NBA Finals MVPs, and 18 all-star appearances. He’s the greatest to ever put on the purple and gold. Not my words. Magic Johnson’s.
“We’re here to celebrate the greatest who has ever worn the purple and gold. For 20 years, you thrilled us and made us scratch our heads and say, ‘What we did we just see? What did we just witness?’ … There will never, ever be another Kobe Bryant.”
Never say never, but it’s safe to say Laker fans will never love another player the way they love Kobe Bryant. And there will never be another retirement ceremony like that. Forget the fact that legends like Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Allen Iverson and former Lakers trainer Gary Vitti were in attendance, but it was even bigger than that. They were giving away special-edition Kobe Drones. Yes, Kobe Drones. Amazing. What a time to be alive.
As for that question of greatest Laker, as you can imagine, Shaq had thoughts on that: “I am probably the most dominant Laker, but I never wanted to be the greatest. Kobe, ever since he came in, always told me he was going to be the greatest, and you can tell by his work ethic and the way he played. The conversation [for best in franchise history] is between him and Magic. But if you ask me, I am more Kobe.”
And of course, retiring both jerseys only delays the question about the single number. For example, if there’s a Kobe statue outside Staples, what number will it wear?
According to Kobe: “If they do a statue, you don’t necessarily have to see the number anywhere. And if they do hair, it is a dead giveaway — 8 has something that 24 will never, never, never have. That is the ability to grow hair.”
Hair jokes aside, he had takes: “[No.] 24 was more challenging, and I tend to gravitate toward things that are harder to do. Physically, it was really, really hard to get up night after night, taking on the Boston Celtics having a bone fragment in my foot, a broken finger, muscling through that back half of my career. I guess if you forced me, I probably would go with 24 because of that.”
But I’m not sure Laker fans won’t let that happen. They love Kobe so much they wouldn’t be happy with just a 24 statue. They’ll want a 24 statue and an 8 statue.
He closed his speech by talking to his daughters: “Those times you get up early and work hard, those times when stay up late and work hard, those times when you don’t feel like working and you’re tired and you don’t want to push yourself, but you do it anyway.” That is actually the dream. That’s the dream. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. If you guys can understand that, what you’ll see happen is that you won’t accomplish your dreams. Your dreams won’t come true. Something greater will.”
And then capped it with his trademark: “Mamba out.”
Laker fans aren’t ever going to let that go. Legends retire and fade away, but it’s going to take a very, very long time before Kobe fades away. Mamba not out.