8 or 24: Who was the better Kobe Bryant?
via AP

8 or 24: Who was the better Kobe Bryant?

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According to reports, the Los Angeles Lakers will retire both of Kobe Bryant’s jerseys on December 18. Both No. 8 or No. 24 are close to Lakers fan's hearts, with each number representing different eras of his Hall of Fame career. When Bryant wore No. 8, he won three championships and scored 81 points. Donning No. 24, the Black Mamba won two more championships and two NBA Finals MVPs. Which Kobe era was better? 🏀

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Frobe vs. Mamba. 8 vs. 24. Kobe Bryant's career can be split into two distinct eras. There was the precocious young gun whose hard work justified the confidence he had. Then there was the grizzled veteran, with a career's worth of tricks to play his opponents like a puppeteer.

Both were assassins. Both were legends. Both were quintessentially Kobe Bryant.

Free of Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant was free to be the first, second and third option for the Los Angeles Lakers. And he took advantage of that in a big way.

Kobe Bryant is one of the best scorers the league has ever seen, but even he was one another level when he faced the Toronto Raptors in a meaningless January game in 2006. With his team down big, Bryant took over the game. He made shot after shot like everyone else was a practice cone. By the end of the night, Bryant shot the Lakers past the Raptors pretty much all by himself.

In an era where defenses are complicated, and the overall level of athleticism is so high, a scoring binge like this seemed impossible. Wilt Chamberlain had the benefit of playing against boys half his size. Bryant was locked in like no one had been before.

81 points may never happen again.

Kobe Bryant has done a lot of things in his career—outscoring an entire team through three quarters may be the greatest of them all.

After Shaquille O'Neal fouled out in overtime, all eyes went on the gimpy 21-year-old wearing No. 8. The Indiana Pacers licked their lips to test the young star and his reaction under pressure—and they were treated to a show.

Fighting an ankle sprain in Game 2, Bryant kept the Pacers at Bay with O'Neal on the bench. With around six seconds left, Bryant hit a key putback basket to put the Lakers up by three. Bryant willed the Lakers to a 3-1 series lead instead of a 2-2 tie.

The return of Phil Jackson brought Kobe Bryant back to the playoffs where he thrived under the spotlight.

The Lakers secured the seventh seed in the playoffs and were facing the seven-seconds-or-less Phoenix Suns at the height of their powers. The series was supposed to be a cake walk, but Bryant got Los Angeles a 2-1 series lead heading into Game 4. That is where he delivered two of the most clutch shots of his career.

Many players in the NBA are talented enough score 40 points once in their career. Kobe Bryant made it nearly a weekly occasion. At one point, he scored 40 or more points in nine straight games, a feat only accomplished by Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan—talk about an exclusive club.

The Frobe era had lots of dunks, and epic scoring stretches. But Kobe Bryant had flaws that held him back. Making the switch to No. 24, Bryant evolved into a more complete player—and unfortunately for the rest of the league, a more dangerous player.

Adding to his already deadly midrange jumper, Bryant became an expert post player and a more engaged leader. Every one of those attributes was on display when he went on a scoring binge not seen since Wilt Chamberlain. For four straight games, Bryant scored 50 or more points, making each opponent look like they were playing on rookie mode in NBA 2K.

Kobe could score when he was younger, but he was something else when he changed to No. 24. He wasn't Frobe anymore—he was the Black Mamba.

All the best players love the feeling of having all eyes on them. And there isn't a bigger stage than Madison Square Garden. Kobe Bryant LOVES Madison Square Garden.

With Spike Lee in the building, Bryant scored the most points ever in the Garden's history. And in what may be an even rare occurrence, the New York crowd serenaded him with three letters every NBA player wants to hear: M-V-P.

After being tortured by the Phoenix Suns after Shaquille O'Neal's departure, Bryant got his revenge when he had an actual team behind him. Not only did he push the Lakers past the Suns in the Western Conference Finals, he let Alvin Gentry know it was all good when he hit the series sealing shot.

With a chance to win a championship, teams need their best players to show up and perform. With a chance to put 2009's Finals loss behind him and prove he wasn't a Shaquille O'Neal coattail rider, Kobe had one of the best games of his career to get his fourth title and first Finals MVP.

If you wrote a Hollywood ending for Kobe Bryant, it's hard to get more perfect than scoring 60 points in his final game.

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