Kobe Bryant: No.8 or No.24? His future success will decide

Dom MitchellContributor IMay 22, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 21:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on against the Denver Nuggets in Game Two of the Western Conference Finals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 21, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

It is common knowledge that if the Lakers were to win a title in the next few years, Phil Jackson would have 10 NBA championship rings, moving ahead of Red Auerbach for the most all time. Kobe Bryant would finally win a title as "The Man," and the franchise would move a little closer to Boston's record 17 championships with 15 of their own.

What is less often discussed is what it could mean for the Lakers in terms of Bryant's inevitable jersey retirement. If Bryant doesn't win a championship wearing No. 24, it will be very difficult for the Lakers to retire his new number.

Even if Kobe were to wear 24 for more than half of his career, his three championships wearing No. 8 would make a compelling argument in favor of retiring that number.

Considering the numerous negative connotations associated with the No. 8 jersey—the Colorado sexual assault trial, the public feud with Shaquille O'Neal, the perceived arrogance and selfishness in his personality and his game—it is likely that Bryant would prefer that the Lakers retired his new jersey. Otherwise, why would he have changed it?

Since changing his jersey number, Kobe has been said to have become a better teammate and won the league MVP award, which had eluded him until the 2007-08 season. With an NBA title of his own—without help from Shaq—to go along with the MVP award, the Lakers would likely have no qualms with retiring the No. 24 jersey.

While this likely pales in comparison to Kobe's other motivation for winning, the Lakers will have to assess this one day and decide which number to retire. They could retire both, but this would be unprecedented and unnecessary. With O'Neal's No. 34 likely to adorn the rafters of Staples Center soon enough, the Lakers will have more food for thought.

The question then will be: What do fans remember more fondly, the dynamic duo of Shaq and Kobe which won three straight championships at the beginning of the decade or the Kobe and Pau tandem that ended it?

Kobe's popularity in Los Angeles right now borders on the insane, and with Shaq being booed at times on his returns to Staples, it would appear that Kobe has the fans in his corner right now.

But if the rest of his career passes without a championship, thwarted annually by LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, Lakers fans might find themselves fondly reminiscing about the three-peat years and looking at Kobe's solo act as an unfortunate failure.

The choice of 8 or 24 could depend on two different numbers: three or four. If Kobe retires with three championships, you can bet No. 8 will hang in Hollywood. If he can get four or more, expect to see No. 24 high above.