When Kobe Bryant announced that he would retire after this season, there were two immediately urgent questions. First, how much is it going to cost to bid Bryant farewell when he comes to your town? Second, which of Bryant’s jersey numbers — 8 or 24 — would the Los Angeles Lakers retire once the Black Mamba calls it quits?
Initially, the team didn’t indicate which direction it might be leaning, leaving the door open on all possibilities. And at an event for season ticket holders over the weekend, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak seemed to continue the vague responses (via the LA Times):
Which of Bryant's two numbers will the Lakers honor?
“I don't know the answer. Obviously it's going to be 8, 24 or it could be both,” said Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak at a season ticket holder event Sunday.
Pretty non-committal, right? Probably. On the other hand, it’s telling that Kupchak would mention the possibility of retiring both numbers. Frankly, that’s the only realistic solution here. While Bryant has said that he "grew into" himself while wearing No. 24, there’s a ton of history for Bryant in the No. 8 jersey as well. He won three titles with his original number, and he feuded with Shaquille O’Neal during his time as No. 8. Despite changing numbers, 8 is and always will be part of Bryant’s persona.
It’s impossible to imagine anyone else wearing either of Bryant’s numbers, and Kupchak and the Lakers have to know that. The Lakers GM also told those in attendance that the team cannot move on "until Kobe leaves." That means completely turning the page from the Bryant era to the next chapter in the history of the purple and gold. And that, in turn, means hanging both of Bryant’s jerseys from the rafters.
It’s an inevitable decision. And regardless of his intention in letting slip such a simple phrase — "or it could be both" — Kupchak tipped the Lakers’ hand on Sunday. The only question now isn’t whether the team should retire both of Bryant’s numbers. It’s how exactly the Lakers will display both numbers high above the Staples Center floor.