Los Angeles Lakers icon Kobe Bryant switched from no.8 to no. 24 in the 2006-07 NBA season. Basketball historians have been parsing out the difference between the two iterations, but their takes are only theoretical. Former Lakers forward Lamar Odom was one of the few players who witnessed both versions and pointed out the difference between the two.
Kobe 8 vs Kobe 24
Odom was part of the package the Miami Heat sent to LA in exchange for Shaquille O’Neal. It was a trade that had to be made -- the Shaq and Kobe feud was reaching its boiling point.
This alleviated the internal tension but didn’t fully end it. Kobe now had a chip on his shoulder; he wanted to prove he could win without Shaq. And this eagerness did more good than bad, especially for his teammates. Odom saw how no. 8 Kobe behaved in front of his teammates.
"It was tough on other players being around 8. He wasn't 24 yet. But being around 8, 8 was still stubborn. Selfishly stubborn. He didn't give a f**k. He would tell you he didn't give a f**k. 24 knew how to rub your back, what should I do, how should I approach this dude. You know what I mean? But 8 didn't give a f**k. If you weren't on his page, then get the f**k out," Odom said, per Club Shay Shay.
Perhaps Kobe’s 81-point game best exemplifies what Odom explained. Kobe had always been a fluent scorer. Dropping 40 to 50 points a night was something he could do. But scoring 81 points suggests that the other guys on the team didn’t do their job. And Kobe had no patience or time to wait for them to get going. He just did everything himself.
From the looks of it, Kobe’s jersey switch wasn’t just symbolic. It also ushered in a new mindset. In a way, Kobe embraced being the new leader and face of the franchise. And being a leader entailed reaching out and understanding your teammates.
It would be foolish to expect them to radically change their mindset. Everyone has their own experiences and grew up differently. And so, the challenge for a leader is finding a common niche with your teammates. Leaders will keep on coming back to this common niche to be able to form a tight bond. Once established, then the road to glory will be much smoother.
One season after changing his jersey to no. 24, the Lakers propelled to contender status. Though they got beat by the Boston Celtics, it signified that Kobe and the Lakers were on the right track. The following season, Kobe finally proved he could win without Shaq. The season after, he snagged his fifth ring — one more than the Big Diesel.