Jersey’s number 8 and 24 were hoisted to the rafters last night; Same player, two different careers. There are twelve teams that looked at this ceremony with pangs of regret and one woeful franchise that realizes for a night in 1996, he was theirs. How could these teams pass on a player, with not one, but two Hall of Fame careers? There is only one ‘answer’ as to who should have been taken number one in 1996’, and it is Kobe Bryant. How could they have missed the otherworldly confidence, the ultra-competitive spirit, a willingness to sacrifice to be the best, the hunger to win, and the desire to become a legend? The beneficiaries of the unlucky 13 said thank you by hoisting numbers 8 and 24 to the rafters last night.
How many players can say that they had two Hall of Fame careers wearing two different numbers? How many players have had the privilege of retiring two different numbers for the same team? I am still searching for the answer, if you find it I would appreciate your tweet. Kobe was truly a special player, complicated but special. How many players give themselves a nickname, and we all sheepishly use it. How special is that? We loved the Mamba, yet he was at times accused of being a jerk; was an overly grating teammate; was rather selfish, and; was an on-court narcissist. How many of the league’s 30 teams would want either number 8 or 24 in his prime on their roster? Can Aquaman swim? You have your answer. In spite of all these obvious flaws and maybe because of them, Kobe Bryant was a winner.
Kobe Bryant has a legacy in basketball that transcends his former team, the Lakers. We recognize the Kobe in Russell Westbrook when after going 3 for 22 he still takes and hits the game-winning shot. We recognize his move in Kyrie, who breaks the shackles of playing with a fellow Hall of Famer in order to chart his own course. We recognize his on-court game in a feisty Luka Doncic who is a year away from his rookie season. We recognize him in the kid that is first to the gym and the last to leave. We recognize him in every player that takes a thousand threes daily in order to improve his shooting and shooting form. We recognize him in the player that not only wants to beat you but beat you at your best. This is the Mamba that we know. This is his legacy.
The game between the Lakers and the Warriors served as a fitting tribute to the legacy of the Mamba. Lakers 102, Warriors 102 and on to over time. Final score defending champions Warriors, 116 and upstart Lakers 114. The Lakers showed fight and otherworldly confidence. They went at the Warriors and almost completed an improbable victory. For one more night at least, a bit of Mamba magic was in the house. Mamba out!