NBA icon Kobe Bryant became the first player in Lakers franchise history to have two jerseys retired in front of his family, former teammates, other Lakers legends, and a sellout crowd as the Lakers battled the Golden State Warriors.
“He gave us five NBA championships … you gave us three in number eight and two in 24,” Lakers president of Basketball operations Magic Johnson. “We are so blessed to have had this man wear the purple and gold for 20 years.”
Bryant now joins Elgin Baylor, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, James Worthy, Magic Johnson, Jamaal Wilkes, and Gail Goodrich as Lakers with retired jerseys.
“It’s hard to put it in words. Growing up and watching all these great players play, learning so much from them to now be apart of that wall means everything to me,” Bryant said. “I think legacy is really important in the sense of what we’ve done is awesome, but I think what’s more important for the legacy is how that affects the next generation.”
Prior to the matchup, Bryant sat down with reporters and talked about his career and life after basketball. Bryant responded to questions in English, Spanish and Italian.
During the halftime presentation, fans heard Bryant poignant retirement poem “Dear Basketball” being recited to a short film directed and animated by Glen Keane. Prior to the reveal, Lakers president Magic Johnson and franchise owner Jeanie Buss acknowledged Bryant with speeches. Johnson took note of the diverse audience that came to witness the honor.
“We need you right now,” the Showtime Laker told Bryant. “This country needs to come together and you were able to bring us all together.”
If there was a person that questioned the decision of retiring both of Bryant’s numbers, Buss gave an eloquent response.
“We are retiring both your numbers because if you separated each of the accomplishments under those numbers, each of those players would qualify for the Hall of Fame,” she said.
Buss also represented the fans and read their appreciation on Bryant’s work ethic, sacrifice and mentality on court.
“Thank you, Kobe for your incredible work ethic, never giving up and somehow figuring out how to impose your will on a game and single-handedly changing the outcome,” she quoted a fan response.
Many of Bryant’s past teammates were in attendance including Derek Fisher, who played alongside Bryant through the five championships. Hall of Famer Allen Iverson was there to support him. Bryant mentioned how he had fun competing against Iverson during the press conference.
“I remember when we came in, we were the draft that was full of a bunch of misfits,” Bryant said. “Iverson, no it does not fit with the mold, he’s not marketable, this whole thing and then you got a kid that you need to burp before every practice because he’s so young, we were kina the misfits of it all but … we had a passion to play.”
Bryant joked with reporters throughout the press conference, mentioning how jersey No. 8 Kobe’s accomplishment over jersey No. 24 Kobe was his ability to grow hair. Bryant also admitted that he still wakes up an 4A.M. like he did during his career.
Bryant is an 18-time NBA All-Star and competed in the Slam Dunk contest in his rookie year. He has a career scoring average of 25.0 points, reaching 35.4 points per game during the 2005-2006 season. Through the years, he garnered the nicknames ‘showboat,’ ‘the Black Mamba,’ and ‘Vino.’
Throughout the day, social media users showed their respect for Bryant and his illustrious career with the hashtag #Ko8e24.
“Kobe Bryant is truly among the greatest to ever play our game,” NBA Legend and Dream Teamer Scottie Pippen. “It’s an amazing feeling to see your number in the rafters and I know he’ll enjoy every moment. Congrats to the Mamba!”
The current Lakers squad fought with valor against the Golden State with Bryant and his family sitting front row, mid court. Stifled by Durant for most of the game former young teammate Larry Nance Jr. posturized Kevin Durant. Los Angeles was still competitive, but were behind 53-57 by halftime and a layup from forward Brandon Ingram would push the game into overtime.
Despite the Lakers coming up short 114-116, the evening was historic.
“It was a pretty incredible night,” said forward Kyle Kuzma. He led the Lakers in scoring with 25 points.
Rookie guard Lonzo Ball noted how he enjoyed the speeches during the presentation.
“I’ve never seen anything close to that,” Ball said. “That moment I’ll remember that forever.”