As tributes pour in for Kobe Bryant following his death in a helicopter crash on Sunday in Los Angeles, theScore looks back at the career and legacy of an NBA legend.
This article was originally published on Dec. 17, 2017, the day before Bryant's No. 8 and No. 24 were both retired at Staples Center.
It's 10 p.m. in Los Angeles on April 13, 2016. Confetti is raining down as the Staples Center crowd recognizes the end of greatness. "Thank you, Kobe!" It almost feels like a championship celebration.
An epic 20-year career will be celebrated once again Monday night. One year, eight months, and five days after that final buzzer, the Lakers will hang both No. 8 and No. 24 in the rafters to commemorate the legend of the Black Mamba.
It's the first time in NBA history that one player will have two numbers retired by the same franchise. That begs the question: Which version of Kobe was more memorable? Let's compare by looking at the moments, seasons, and overall accomplishments that defined No. 8 (1996-2006) and No. 24 (2006-16).
No. 8: Eighty-one points in a single game. It remains the second-highest point total by a player in NBA history, and one of the most relentless performances ever televised. On that January night in Los Angeles, Bryant dismantled the Toronto Raptors as the Lakers overcame an 18-point deficit.
To this day, the 81-point game feels like a surreal memory. An argument can be made that it was the most exciting individual achievement the league has ever witnessed.
No. 24: While it wasn't his best game, Bryant's 60-point career finale was arguably his best moment.
That performance was a meaningful end to a disastrous final three seasons for Bryant and the Lakers. He'd played in just 106 of a possible 245 games during that time, so the curtain call was important. And at 37 years old, he finished his career in the most Kobe way possible.
The 50 shots Bryant hoisted in his final 42 minutes were the most by any player since the stat began being tracked officially in 1983-84. And while the Lakers finished a franchise-worst 17-65 that season, win No. 17 was bigger than basketball.
But while the final act was special, "81" will forever be attached to Bryant. In fact, the number will represent him just as much as either jersey that hangs from the rafters.
Winner: No. 8
No. 8: Bryant was a fierce competitor and an unstoppable scorer. His statistics - while at times inefficient - were downright spectacular. The 35.4 points per game he averaged during the 2005-06 campaign rank as the eighth-highest total in NBA history. Other than Wilt Chamberlain, only Michael Jordan (37.1) and Rick Barry (35.6) averaged more in a single campaign.
In terms of peak performance, this was the best Bryant. Despite playing with a subpar cast of teammates that included Chris Mihm, Kwame Brown, and a lot of Smush Parker, Kobe still led the Lakers to 45 wins and a playoff appearance.
No. 24: Two seasons later, a revamped roster and the midseason arrival of Pau Gasol gave Kobe the opportunity to win for the first time since Shaquille O'Neal left town. Bryant flourished, was named NBA MVP, and led the Lakers to their first Finals appearance since 2004.
Sure, the 2007-08 season ended in disappointment with a six-game loss to the Boston Celtics, but Kobe had finally stepped out of O'Neal's giant shadow. He and the Lakers won back-to-back championships over the next two years, which lifted Bryant into the GOAT conversation.
Winner: No. 24
No. 8: Bryant's first 10 NBA seasons were spectacular. After arriving as an 18-year-old straight out of high school, he showed flashes of greatness in his first couple of seasons.
Soon, he became the No. 2 man in one of the best duos in NBA history. The Shaq-Kobe pairing was simply unstoppable as the Lakers claimed three straight championships from 2000-02.
And based on talent alone, Bryant was at his best during the second half of his first 10 NBA seasons. He was capable of scoring from anywhere, defending the other team's best player, and dominating athletically.
No. 24: After Bryant changed numbers, he continued to rack up accomplishments, albeit in a different manner. As the big dog in Los Angeles, he didn't just post great individual numbers - he also became the best leader in the league, earned his lone MVP, and carried his team to a pair of titles.
Beyond continuing to earn All-NBA and All-Defensive team honors in the latter half of his career, Kobe also won two Olympic gold medals with Team USA.
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Winner: No. 24
By a very narrow margin, No. 24 gets the nod. While Bryant established himself as a superstar with No. 8, he took his legacy to another level after making the switch. As No. 24, he won titles without Shaq, became an MVP, and led the way for a new generation of stars.
But regardless of which number you remember most, you'll utter the same name whenever you raise your arm and flick your wrist: "Kobe."