Lakers News: Top Buzz Ahead of Kobe Bryant's Lakers Jerseys Retirement

Maurice Bobb@@ReeseReportFeatured ColumnistDecember 18, 2017

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 13:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers waves to the crowd as he walks on the court before the game against the Utah Jazz on April 13, 2016 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Rather than argue about which version of Kobe Bryant was better, No. 8 or No. 24, the Los Angeles Lakers are retiring both numbers into the rafters Monday night at the Staples Center.

It will be the Black Mamba's first Lakers game since his 60-point mic drop against the Utah Jazz last year. And while Bryant is the first player in NBA history to have two different numbers retired by the same team, he is struck by his maturation as a player that happened between the numerical genesis that led to his name joining the other greats that wore the Purple and Gold.

"When I first came in at 8, is really trying to 'plant your flag' sort of thing," Bryant told ESPN's Baxter Holmes. "I got to prove that I belong here in this league. I've got to prove that I'm one of the best in this league. You're going after them. It's nonstop energy and aggressiveness and stuff."

While wearing the No. 8, Bryant's unparralled athleticism helped him win the Slam Dunk title as a rookie, win three championships, make eight All-Star appearances, win an All-Star Game MVP, four All-NBA First Team nods and four NBA All-Defensive First Team honors.

He also scored 16,866 points, which includes the 81 points he dropped on the Toronto Raptors in a single game.

"Then 24 is a growth from that," Bryant added. "Physical attributes aren't there the way they used to be, but the maturity level is greater. Marriage, kids. Start having a broader perspective being one of the older guys on the team now, as opposed to being the youngest. Things evolve."

After he changed to the No. 24, Bryant relied on his otherworldly footwork and went on to score 16,777 points, win two NBA Finals MVPs, a league MVP trophy, make 10 All-Star appearances, two gold medals with Team USA and back-to-back NBA titles in 2009 and 2010.

Bryant also became the NBA's third all-time leading scorer behind Kareem Adbul-Jabbar and Karl Malone.

"It's not to say one is better than the other or one's a better way to be," Bryant said. "It's just growth."

Growth is the operative word. Bryant played 20 years in the league and served as an inspiration for scores of youth that are now looking to pick up the mantle that will push the league forward.

Players like Joel Embiid, Kyrie Irving and even current Lakers' players like Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, all consider Bryant an inspiration.

"He took every game like it was his last," Ingram told Lakers' reporter Mike Trudell. "He took advantage of any game or any aspect of the game. He wanted to master everything and was definitely an inspiration of our generation and, of course, many generations [before] me."

"If you mention the Lakers, you think about Kobe," Ball added. "Just watching Kobe, I love his mentality. Not scared of nobody, always wants to win, very competitive, so I think that's the biggest thing to take away from his game. Like I said, I'm glad he's getting both jerseys retired. I think that's fitting for him. Hopefully we'll put on a good show for him."

That show will include a halftime showing of his five-minute animated short, "Dear Basketball," Bryant's early Oscar contender from his poem about his love for the game and having to let it go.

"It was kind of a snap shot of the arc of my career, really," Bryant said "The struggles to start. The ebbs and flows throughout the course of the game. Physically being tired but pushing through. That perseverance. The footwork that was there, the fundamentals of the game were there.

"But also the emotional strengths to be able to have the inner confidence that this thing will turn around. It's OK. I don't care if millions of people are watching, just focus on the thing you love doing because you're doing it for the last time. Being able to emotionally find the enjoyment in that versus the burden of the pressure of the situation."

Shaquille O'Neal, the other half of one of the league's most unstoppable duos, will be in the house, but Phil Jackson, the head coach that steered Bryant during his five championship runs, won't be according to ESPN's Ramona Shelburne's sources.

Jackson did tweet his congratulations, though.

Bryant doesn't know exactly how his numbers will be raised but he's in awe of the opportunity to join the other greats currently hanging like Magic Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain.

"No question," Bryant said. "Those were muses to me growing up as a kid. To have my jersey up there with them is a dream come true. My goodness, that's insane."

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