Kobe Bryant by the Numbers

September 1, 2010
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Kobe Bryant wore two different numbers in high school, two different numbers in the NBA, and a totally different number than he had ever worn before in the Olympics.

When Kobe played for Lower Merion High he wore both jersey numbers 24 and 33. In an April 2006 article, Darren Rovell explains the reasoning behind this:

“Bryant began his career at Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pa., wearing No. 24. But by 1996 — the year he led the school to the state championship — he had switched to No. 33, the number his father Joe “Jelly Bean” Bryant wore in high school.”

Upon his arrival to the NBA, Kobe probably would have chosen to wear number 33 and pay homage to his father once again, but couldn’t. As noted by Rovell, Kobe couldn’t take number 33 because the Lakers had already retired it in honor of Kareem. That’s the one bad thing about being drafted or traded to one of the greatest franchises in NBA history. They have so many jerseys hanging in the rafters, there’s a good chance your favorite number has already been retired, making it unavailable for you to wear. Nonetheless, Kobe had to choose another number for his NBA debut. He decided to go with number 8 (If you’re wondering, George McCloud wore number 24 for the Lakers Kobe’s rookie year). Rovell explains the logic behind Kobe choosing number 8:

“Bryant arrived at the No. 8 for two reasons. It was the number he wore when he was a kid playing in Italy. It also tied into the number he wore at Adidas’ ABCD Camp, 143. The numbers add up to 8.”

As TheLakersNation.com points out, Kobe wore number 8 as a kid in Italy because his favorite player Mike D’Antoni, the current coach of the New York Knicks, sported that number as a star in the Italian Professional League. Kobe ended up wearing number 8 for ten seasons before making the switch to number 24 for the start of the 2006-2007 season. According to this Associated Press article, Kobe was quoted as saying the following about the number change:

“No. 8 has been with me for a while obviously,” he said. “I just felt it was time to move on and do something different. When I came back from Italy and I came to the States to play, the first number I selected was number 24. It is kind of a new beginning for me, and that’s what the second half of my career is all about.”

Matt Christopher, author of the book On the Court with…Kobe Bryant, has a similar perspective on the number change:

“When he first took the floor, spectators noticed a difference even before he touched a basketball. His jersey number was no longer number 8; it was number 24, his original number in high school. His reasons for making the switch were never clear, but some believed it was his way of acknowledging that he was entering a new phase of his career, one that saw him passing as much as shooting.”

The Kobe Bryant number 24 era was indeed a new phase of his career and has been just as or even more successful than the Kobe Bryant number 8 era. So far during the number 24 era, Kobe has won an NBA MVP award, two NBA Finals MVP awards, and two championship rings. During the number 8 era, he won three championship rings but had to share the spotlight with Shaq and received no MVP awards (All-Star Game MVP awards are not relevant to the point I am trying to make here).

More recently, in the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, Kobe wore number 10 for the U.S.A. squad. As mentioned in my post Michael Jordan by the Numbers, FIBA rules dictate that players can only wear jersey numbers 4-15, so keep in mind Kobe had to choose a number in that range.

There was a popular rumor on NBA forums and blogs that Kobe had picked number 10 to “1 up” Michael Jordan.  As you probably know, Michael Jordan wore number 23 as a member of the Bulls and number 9 as a member of the USA Olympic team. Kobe had already “1 upped” the legend by wearing number 24 (23 + 1) on the Lakers and was “1 upping” him again by wearing number 10 (9+1) on the Olympic squad. However, this was most likely not the case. There is a much better explanation for why Kobe chose number 10 and it’s deeply seeded in his Italian roots.

At the end of the 1982-1983 NBA Season, the Houston Rockets released Kobe’s father Joe Bryant and no other teams expressed interest in signing him. As a result, the Bryants packed up their bags and moved to Italy in 1984, the place Joe Bryant found employment as a basketball player. In Italy, as Matt Christopher explains, soccer was the preferred sport:

“But although there was a basketball court at Kobe’s school, he had a hard time finding other kids who wanted to play. Unfortunately for Kobe, most Italian children preferred to play soccer…Kobe learned to play soccer and enjoy the game…”

As a soccer fan, it’s only natural that Kobe would want to wear number 10. It’s generally known that  the player who wears number 10 on a soccer team is the playmaker, the go-to-guy, the best player on the squad. The famous Brazilian soccer player Pele wore number 10 and more recently the USA’s best soccer player Landon Donovan wore number 10 at the 2010 World Cup.

Next time you see an athlete wearing a number across his or her chest, whether it’s college, pro, or high school, go ahead and ask them why they chose that number. There’s likely a deeper meaning behind it than you initially thought.

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