No. 8 vs. No. 24: Which Kobe Bryant Would You Choose?

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No. 8 vs. No. 24: Which Kobe Bryant Would You Choose?
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

On April 26, 2006, whilst in the midst of perhaps his greatest individual season, Kobe Bryant announced his intention to change his number from eight to 24, beginning with the 2006-2007 season.

For such a seemingly small event, this announcement garnered major coverage in the sports media world.  When Bryant initially refused to reveal the reason for the change, numerous theories arose as to why he was making a mid-career switch.  These ranged from theories indicating Kobe was a Jeff Gordon fan, to Kobe wanting to be one number better than Michael Jordan.

Bryant has since revealed the simple reason for the number change: he had worn Nos. 24 and 33 in high school, but both of these numbers were unavailable when he signed with the Lakers.  He arrived at the No. 8 by adding the digits from his ABCD Camp number, 1234. 

After having worn No. 8 for 10 NBA seasons, Kobe stated that the first part of his career was over, and he was beginning the second part with the No. 24. 

It has been four seasons since the change, ample time for us to compare Bryant's accomplishments while wearing each number.  So this brings up a question: which Kobe Bryant would you want on your team?  The one wearing No. 8, or the one with No. 24?  Let's decide:

Regular Season Statistics

While wearing No. 8:

707 games played

35.69 minutes per game

.4515 field goal percentage

.336 three-point field goal percentage

.834 free throw percentage

5.14 rebounds per game

4.45 assists per game

1.5 steals per game

0.62 blocks per game

2.87 turnovers per game

23.86 points per game

Kobe Bryant wore the No. 8 from the 1996-1997 season until the 2005-2006 season.  Over that span, he aged from 18 to 28 years old.  The numbers that he put up in that span are obviously impressive, especially when we consider that he did not start during his first two seasons. 

While wearing No. 24:

314 games played

38.62 minutes per game

.467 field goal percentage

.348 three-point field goal percentage

.845 free throw percentage

5.66 rebounds per game

5.15 assists per game

1.58 steals per game

0.42 blocks per game

3.04 turnovers per game

28.42 points per game

Since changing to No. 24, Kobe has unleashed some massive numbers.  In fact, his 28-5-5 points-assists-rebounds line is matched only by Michael Jordan in NBA history.  From a statistical point of view, No. 24 is a major improvement over No. 8.


Wins-Losses

While wearing No. 8:

464-243 in the regular season (.656 winning percentage)

79-47 in the postseason (.627 winning percentage)

3-1 in NBA Finals series

No. 8 was one of the great champions in league history.  During his first 10 seasons, Kobe missed the playoffs just once, and his teams compiled mind-boggling winning percentages in both the regular and post seasons.

Also, most importantly, No. 8 was a key factor in the most recent NBA three-peat. However, he was also a major factor in a brutal Finals loss in 2004.

While wearing No. 24:

212-102 in the regular season (.675 winning percentage)

47-25 in the postseason (.653 winning percentage)

As great a winner as No. 8 was, No. 24 has been even more successful.  The Lakers' winning percentages in the regular and post seasons during this four-year span are among the greatest ever compiled. 

However, wins are nothing unless they lead they lead to more wins in the Finals, and No. 24 has that aspect covered.  In four years with the new number, Kobe has led his team to the Finals three times, winning twice.  This edition of Bryant has faced his team's arch nemesis on two occasions in the championship round, and was a part of only the third Laker victory over Boston in the Finals.


Awards and Accomplishments

As No. 8:

All-Rookie Second Team (1997)

Slam Dunk Contest Champion (1997)

Scoring Champion (2006)

Eight-time NBA All-Star

All-Star Game MVP (2002)

Four-time All-Defensive First Team

Two-time All-Defensive Second Team

Four-time All-NBA First Team

Two-time All-NBA Second Team

Two-time All-NBA Third Team

The single digit Kobe collected awards too quickly to be tallied.  He burst on to the scene as a rookie, as a part of the first-year second team, as well as winning the dunk competition.

He also made an All-NBA team in every year that he started, and made an All-Defensive team for six consecutive years.  Bryant ended his run wearing No. 8 by winning his first scoring title.

As No. 24:

Scoring Champion (2007)

Four-time NBA All-Star

Two-time All-Star Game MVP (2007, 2009)

Four-time All-Defensive First Team

Four-time All-NBA First Team

NBA Most Valuable Player (2008)

Two-time NBA Finals Most Valuable Player (2009, 2010)

In just four seasons, No. 24 has racked up a career's worth of trophies.  He matched number eight's scoring title, and topped him in All-Star MVP awards, MVP awards, and Finals MVP awards.  Bryant has also made the first teams of the NBA and Defense in every year wearing the new digits.  Also, perhaps most impressively, he has ended half of his years as No. 24 by winning the NBA Finals MVP trophy.


Intangibles

No. 8:

Young No. 8 burst onto the scene as an 18-year-old rookie, and dazzled fans with his athleticism and likable personality.  He turned in some of the great clutch performances in league history during the postseason in this number, including two spectacular Game Seven performances in the Western Conference Finals. 

While not necessarily known as a leader, due to the presence of Shaquille O'Neal, he was a very vocal component of the Laker locker room.  As a three-time champion, he also brought a competitive fire comparable to that of Michael Jordan.

This good-guy image came to a screeching halt in 2003, when Bryant was accused of sexual assault.  Although the charges would be dismissed, the accusations and trial tarnished Kobe's image almost irreparably.  Following the criminal trial, Kobe would be at the head of a power shift in L.A., forcing long-time teammate O'Neal out.

No. 8 would end his run by missing the postseason for the first time, then following that up with a first round loss to the Phoenix Suns.

No. 24:

Continuing the work started by No. 8, No. 24 would begin his career by winning back many fans with high-scoring performances.  However, he would lose in his first postseason with the new number, once again in the first round to the Phoenix Suns.

After the loss to the Suns, the new Kobe would demand a trade, and clashed with management over the direction of the team.  This led to a trade for Pau Gasol, and a resurgence of Kobe Bryant as a winner. 

With a newly minted championship contender to call his own, No. 24 set out to become the leader that number eight could never have hoped to be.  His work paid off, as he led his Lakers to the Finals for the first time without O'Neal.  However, No. 24 would pick up in the Finals where No. 8 left off: losing.

Working harder than ever to match No. 8's champion status, No. 24 would again will his team to the NBA Finals, where he showed that the likable personality of the young No. 8 was now completely non-existent. 

In between surly communications with the media, Kobe would lead the Lakers to their first championship since 2002, and Kobe's first without O'Neal.

No. 24 could not be realistically compared to No. 8 without matching his status as a repeat champion, and the new Kobe set out to make that so.  Taking his leadership and clutch abilities to new heights, Bryant would set an unofficial record with six game-winning shots in the 2009-2010 season, capping off a brilliant playoff run with another title.


Conclusion

Taken individually, the careers of Kobe Bryant as No. 8 and No. 24 stand up well.  Either of these players could easily be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame on their own.  This could bring up an awkward situation for the Lakers when Bryant's number is to be retired.  Kobe could conceivably be the first player in any professional sport to have two numbers retired for him. 

While every person will have their own opinion about which edition of Kobe is better, I personally would choose No. 24.  Even though Bryant's career in this number is far from over, he has already matched or surpassed most of his accomplishments in number eight.  However, this number is most notable for the section of his career that it represents: his time without Shaquille O'Neal.

It was going to be a question that haunted Kobe Bryant until the day he retired and beyond: could he win without Shaq?  After changing the jersey number to 24, Kobe answered this question emphatically: yes. 

As the undisputed leader and best player on the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant has put together an incredible run of three consecutive Finals appearances and two titles.  For all the people who thought he couldn't do it without the Diesel, Kobe—and No. 24 specifically—showed that he could.

So that's why I think that No. 24 is the greater edition of Kobe Bryant, but that is just my opinion.  What's your opinion?  If you had to pick one Kobe to start a team with, would it be No. 8 or No. 24?

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