For 10 years, Kobe Bryant wore No. 8, and for 10 years, Bryant wore No. 24. For 20 years, Bryant dominated sports in Los Angeles like no one before him.
After entering the NBA in 1996 straight out of Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia, Bryant won the NBA Slam Dunk in his rookie season. He went on to win three NBA titles in a row, single-handedly outscore a team 62-61 over three quarters and notch 81 points in a single game. Bryant won an NBA All-Star Game MVP, earned three All-NBA First Team honors and four NBA All-Defensive First Team honors.
Bryant accomplished all that while still wearing the no. 8.
Bryant's No. 8 going up in the rafters alongside the Lakers' greats makes sense. As No. 8, Bryant was an athletic scoring machine that played elite level defense, dominated in the postseason and was one of the greatest young talents the league had ever seen. While Shaquille O'Neal gets deserved credit for the Lakers' three-peat, Bryant served as far more than a role player during those title runs in the early 2000s.
After an accomplished decade in the NBA, Bryant switched his number to 24 ahead of the 2006-07 season.
Clearly, he had put together a Hall-of-Fame caliber career. Had Bryant quit after the 2005-06 season, he'd still be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and one would have a difficult time denying that he belonged alongside the greatest players to ever pick up a basketball.
In his second decade as a professional, Bryant set an arena record at the time at Madison Square Garden with 61 points, won two NBA Finals MVPs, won an NBA league MVP trophy, won two NBA titles and won two gold medals with Team USA. Also, he scored 60 points in his final NBA game and led the Lakers to the most epic of comeback victories to seal the sunset ride in his storybook ending.
In many ways, Bryant's second act was more impressive than his first. Donning No. 24, Bryant found a perfect running mate in Pau Gasol and still had a great coach in Phil Jackson, but the "Black Mamba" was the clear No. 1 on his team for three straight trips to the NBA Finals and back-to-back NBA titles in 2009 and 2010.
Bryant went from being one of the greatest talents in NBA history wearing No. 8 to becoming one of the most accomplished players in the league's memory wearing No. 24.
Bryant passed Michael Jordan, his mentor, on the NBA's all-time scoring list wearing No. 24. Bryant finished his career ranking No. 3 on that hallowed list, behind only Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. When Bryant finally hung up his jersey with the miraculous 60-point farewell performance in 2016, the lifelong Lakers' fan that grew up studying archival basketball footage in Italy also ranked in the top 15 in steals, ahead of Isiah Thomas, and top 30 in assists, ahead of Jerry West.
Bryant may have loved to score and may well have been the greatest scorer since Wilt Chamberlain, but he knew how to pick a pass and played some of the best perimeter defense the hardwood has ever seen.
Bryant made nine All-Defensive First Teams and also three All-Defensive Second Teams, meaning he was considered one of the top four defensive guards in the NBA for 13 of his 20 seasons in the NBA. Whether it was Steve Nash, Allen Iverson, Scottie Pippen, Tracy McGrady, Chris Paul or any other opponent that gave guards in the league nightmares, Bryant stepped forward and took the challenge. As competitors, both No. 8 and No. 24 saw eye-to-eye.
Cutting Bryant's career in half, No. 24 did enough to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, while no. 8 was a three-time champion and the most explosive offensive basketball player the league had seen in the modern era. Even with the three-point shot changing the style of the game, no player has come close to hitting 81 points since Bryant hit that incredible height in 2006.
Historically, the Lakers have only retired jerseys for players that have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Bryant's future in the hallowed hall is unquestioned, so the team opting to jump the gun is understandable.
Over 20 years, Bryant effectively played out two Hall-of-Fame careers, so the Lakers made the correct call by choosing to retire both No. 8 and No. 24.