(J Alexander Diaz/Lakers.com)
Kobe: Jerseys in Rafters 'Mean Everything to Me'
Some things are the same for Kobe Bryant, others are different.
He still wakes up at 4 in the morning, using that old habit as an opportunity to work out or write.
But when he walked into Staples Center for Monday’s game, the 39-year-old did so pushing a stroller carrying his infant daughter, Bianka.
He said that some of his fellow NBA players were “genuinely concerned” for him when he entered retirement 20 months ago. He scoffed at their insistence that the absence of basketball would bring depression, anger and, eventually, acceptance to his life.
But, on the day of his jersey numbers retirement ceremony, Bryant entered his old home arena in high spirits thanks to his growing family and newfound passion for storytelling.
Still, the 20-year Laker admitted that having his No. 8 and 24 jerseys hanging from the rafters “means everything to me.”
“I think what’s most important about legacy is how that affects the next generation,” Bryant said. “The jerseys that are hanging in the rafters now (had) an impact on me, which led to us being in this moment now.”
Bryant has cared about the next generation of Lakers to reach out to the likes of Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, advising them to keep their focus set on daily self-improvement.
Less important, he said, was the macro concept of the young Lakers trying to fill void left by his own retirement.
“It’s a challenge, but isn’t that what we’re here for?” Bryant said.
Having his numbers retired reminded Bryant of the beginning of his career — way before he became the franchise’s all-time leader in points, steals, 3-pointers, free throws and games played.
Back then, he was just an 18-year-old straight out of high school, looking up at the retired rafters at the Forum.
“Before every game I made it a point to kind of glance up there and remind me of what I’m playing for, how I got there, and what it is that we’re representing,” Bryant said.
From that point on, Bryant piled up a seldom-rivaled list of accomplishments, including five championships, 18 all-star selections, two scoring titles, and MVP trophy and the third-most points in NBA history.
Now, as his jerseys prepare to be unveiled among fellow franchise greats, Bryant finally offered an answer to the question of which one he would have chosen to retire if he could only pick one.
The answer was forged from the grind of nonstop injuries and an NBA Finals rematch with the Boston Celtics.
“Twenty-four was more challenging,” Bryant said. “I tend to gravitate to things that are harder to do. … I guess if you forced me to pick, I’m probably going to go with 24 because of that.”