Kobe Bryant hit the Staples Center Monday for the official retirement of his jerseys.
By Harrison McQuinn, Sports Editor
It has been almost two years since Kobe Bryant played his last game in the NBA, and now no other Laker will be wearing 8 or 24 again.
Lakers fans flooded into a sold-out Staples Center Monday night, creating a sea of Bryant jerseys across the backs all of ages who grew up watching the 18-time All Star.
Former teammates, opponents, and fans showered Twitter with love for Kobe. Shaquille O’Neal tweeted, “congrats @kobebryant much deserved See you tonight my brother!…”
Bryant has joined the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Gail Goodrich, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, James Worthy, Jerry West, and Jamaal Wilkes who have been immortalized on the walls of the Staples Center.
The Warriors came to Los Angeles to face the Lakers in Bryant’s much-anticipated jersey retirement. Not wanting to miss a moment in the presence of the NBA legend, neither bench hit the locker room at halftime.
In a pre-game interview, Bryant answered rapid fire questions in both Italian and Spanish as well as English, about his historic ascent in the league.
One reporter asked Bryant which number he would retire if we could only choose one for a statue. “If it were hair, it’d be a dead giveaway,” he joked about his days with a fro. “24 was more challenging. I tend to gravitate to things that are harder to do.”
The Laker who drove through some of the greatest defenders and sunk two free throws after tearing his achilles tendon admitted that his biggest fear of the night was his sleeping daughter Bianca waking up from the cameras.
The ceremony began with an animation accompanied by a soliloquy narrated by Bryant himself.
“I never saw the end of the tunnel. I only saw myself running out of one. You asked for my hustle, I gave you my heart,” Bryant read.
President of Laker’s basketball operations and fellow jersey retiree Magic Johnson introduced Bryant. “For twenty years he thrilled us… and he gave us five NBA championships… There will never ever be another Kobe Bryant.”
Jeanie Buss, president of the Lakers, joined the two and was barely able to get in words over the rattling “Kobe” chants.
“If you separated the accomplishments under each jersey, both players would qualify,” Buss said of Bryant’s double-jersey retirement. Buss held back tears as she went on to say, “I thank you for your loyalty to the purple and gold, and remaining a Laker for life.”
Bryant, along with the sold-out seats, then turned up to the wall as his jerseys were slowly unveiled along both sides of the honorary Chick Hearn microphone jersey.
“It’s about the jerseys that were hanging up before… It’s about this current Laker roster we have here… It’s about embodying the spirit that lives within those jerseys up there,” Bryant told the crowd.
The night featured dozens of highlight reels from Bryant’s days on the court such as dunking over the 7’6’’ Yao Ming. Several NBA stars, both current and retired, reflected on the Black Mamba.
“He was a killer. He was a beast,” said James Harden who currently leads the NBA in scoring.
Lebron James, an equally impactful star, joined the others saying, “you know when you went against 8 or 24, you had to be ready… He brought the best out of you.”
The Lakers fell to a Golden State without Steph Curry and Draymond Green in overtime, but Bryant began the night with words that will set the tone for the young team and next era of NBA players.
“Chapters come no matter what you want. Focus on the day-to-day stuff. As time goes on you’ll look back at this beautiful thing you’ve created.”