Kobe Bryant's two legendary NBA careers

by Gordon Dixon - The late Lakers legend had two Hall of Fame-worthy careers in his 20 years, one wearing No. 8 and the other wearing No. 24.

Inside Kobe’s Two Legendary Careers The late Lakers legend had two Hall of Fame-worthy careers in his 20 years, one wearing No. 8 and the other wearing No. 24. Editor's note: This story was originally published on Aug. 24, 2020. Kobe Bryant played 20 years in his NBA career, 10 wearing No. 8 and another 10 wearing No. 24. When it came time to retire his number, the Lakers hung both from the Staples Center rafters , and it's easy to see why. When you separate the two, it's as if he had two legendary careers in one. Bryant came into the NBA wearing No. 8, the sum of the digits on his jersey (143) at the Adidas ABCD camp for high school stars. After 10 years, Bryant wanted a fresh start , so he began wearing No. 24, the number he'd worn as a freshman in high school. Accolades Previous Next Bryant put on a show in the Slam Dunk Contest in 1997, even if the rookie wasn't wearing his iconic No. 8 for much of it. Bryant was a two-time scoring champ, winning one in each jersey number. In his final season as No. 8, he averaged a career-high 35.4 PPG. Bryant finished in the top five of MVP voting 11 times in his career, but it wasn't until 2007-08 (his second season as No. 24) that he took home the trophy. Bryant won the last of his four All-Star Game MVP awards in 2011, when he wowed the hometown crowd at Staples Center by scoring a game-high 37 points. Bryant started filling his trophy case early, winning the Slam Dunk Contest at All-Star Weekend as a rookie in 1997. He won All-Star MVP honors and scoring titles in both of his numbers. His lone MVP came as No. 24 , but No. 8 has the edge in All-NBA selections (8-7). 8 24 . All-Star Game MVP Dunk Contest Champion . All-Rookie . All-NBA All-Defense Scoring Champ W. Conf. Player of the Month . MVP . Finals MVP Stats It didn't matter whether Bryant was wearing No. 8 or No. 24, he was putting up numbers -- ones that were almost identical in each jersey . He scored more points in each jersey number than Hall of Famers Tiny Archibald, James Worthy and Pete Maravich scored in their entire careers. 8 24 . 707 Games 639 25,239 Minutes 23,398 16,866 Points 16,777 3,634 Rebounds 3,413 3,148 Assists 3,158 1,059 Steals 885 431 Blocks 209 45.1 FG % 44.0 33.6 3-pt FG % 33.0 83.4 FT % 84.0 .656 Winning % .582 Finals Previous Next 2000 NBA Finals Bryant took over in Game 4 against the Pacers, scoring 8 points in overtime to lead the Lakers to a win. They'd finish off Bryant's first title two games later. 2001 NBA Finals Facing his hometown Philadelphia 76ers, Bryant put up 24.6 points per game as the Lakers needed just five games to repeat as champs. 2002 NBA Finals Bryant picked up his third ring -- and last as No. 8 -- when the Lakers swept the Nets. He averaged nearly 27 points a game on 51% shooting in the series. 2009 Finals After his first Finals trip wearing No. 24 ended in defeat a year earlier, Bryant rebounded in 2009 to win his fourth title -- matching Shaq's total. 2010 Finals Lakers-Celtics is the NBA's most famous rivalry. Bryant earned his final ring by avenging his 2008 loss, earning Finals MVP honors again in the process. Which Bryant was more impressive in the Finals ? It's hard to say. Playing alongside Shaquille O'Neal, No. 8 went back-to-back-to-back, an accomplishment that hasn't been matched by anyone since. At the end of the decade, No. 24 couldn't three-peat, but did win a pair of Finals MVP trophies. Peaks Previous Next Jan. 22, 2006 Kobe's magnum opus came in the No. 8 jersey. He dropped 81 points on the Raptors, the second-highest single-game total in NBA history. Feb. 2, 2009 Kobe put on a show in New York wearing No. 24, scoring 61 and breaking Michael Jordan's record for points by an opponent in "The Mecca of Basketball." There are so many iconic Kobe Bryant games that it's hard to pick just one -- even if you get one per jersey number. His career-high 81-point game came just months before he ditched No. 8. And while his 61-point performance at MSG wasn't his best in No. 24, it was probably the most memorable. 8 24 Most points scored in single game, NBA history 100 Wilt Chamberlain 03.02.62 81 Kobe Bryant 01.22.06 78 Wilt Chamberlain 12.08.61 Most points scored at current MSG by opponent 61 Kobe Bryant 02.02.09 61 James Harden 01.23.19 55 Michael Jordan 03.28.95 Culture Previous Next Kanye West dropped a reference to the No. 24 jersey in his lyrics, rapping on Jay-Z and T.I.'s "Swagga Like Us," "Tryin' to get that Kobe number, one over Jordan." From the moment he came into the league, Bryant paid homage to the greats who came before him. Now it's current NBA players who pay tribute to him. Zach LaVine, then with the Minnesota Timberwolves, is one of the many players in the NBA who wear No. 8 or No. 24 in honor of Bryant. Just like he switched numbers, Bryant also switched sneaker brands. Though he's best known for his iconic Nikes, he started his career in Adidas. Though Bryant retired in 2016, his Nike sneaker line kept going and has remained the most popular among active NBA players. Whether he was wearing No. 8 or No. 24, Bryant's impact reached far beyond Staples Center. His iconic Nike sneaker line is still going strong, and the Adidas shoes he rocked while wearing No. 8 are some of that company's most popular retros. He has been name-dropped in rap lyrics -- both as No. 8 (thanks, Lil Wayne) and No. 24 (hi, Kanye West), and countless players wear (or stopped wearing ) his jersey numbers in his honor. 8 24 Sneakers As No. 8, Kobe started his career in Adidas (the jersey number is where the Crazy 8 sneaker gets its name) and changed to Nike before changing his jersey number. Kobe went higher with his jersey change around the same time he went lower with his kicks, helping to popularize soccer-style low-cut shoes among NBA players. Tributes "For my generation, [Kobe] was our Michael Jordan. ... I remember where I was watching some of his games. I was at the game where he hit 12 3-pointers against the Sonics. He was partly the reason why I wear No. 8." -- Bulls guard Zach LaVine "I just wanted to thank [Kobe] for all he's done for everybody in the league and for me. You need that role model coming up and for me, it was God and him." -- Pacers forward Alize Johnson on why he wears No. 24 Vote When Bryant retired in 2016, people around the league began asking the question, "Which jersey number will the Lakers retire?" As it turned out, the answer was "both." Bryant's No. 8 and No. 24 will forever hang in the rafters. Photos By Getty Images Illustrations By Brian Bowens Related Stories