As a first-year parent, my Friday nights are spent with a combination of delivery pizza (depressing), catching up on my DVR archive and, last night -- gratefully -- skimming around NBA League Pass's free preview, plus the games on ESPN, which included a sight that demanded a double-take: Kobe in uniform No. 24.
It WAS strange. I DID find myself looking at the screen going, "Wait: I haven't seen that No. 24 before, but he's pretty damn good." Can you think of another superstar pro player who switched numbers without switching teams? (Yes, this is what I think about on a Friday night.)
Obviously, college stars switch numbers all the time when they jump to the pros, but the pro star doesn't switch: His number is part of his brand. The most notable one I could think of was Shaq, who went from 32 to 34 when he went from the Magic to the Lakers. But that was switching teams. When was the last time this happened to a star who stayed on his same team?
If Kobe's intended effect was to make fans feel -- if only to a certain degree -- like they were watching a new player, I have to admit it sort of works. On its face, it's a superficial change, but star players' jersey numbers become part of their identities. He has let go of his "8"-ness. It's a form of reinventing himself:
"No. 8 Kobe" was the selfish gunner who blew it in Game 7 of last year's Western Conference playoffs vs. the Suns.
"No. 24 Kobe" scored 23 and seemed generally happy to be around his teammates, who HAD managed to go 2-0 without him. I had previously suggested that maybe the Lakers were better off without Kobe, with trading him for value that would make the overall team better.
I think I was talking about trading "No. 8 Kobe." Because the Kobe in jersey number "24" looked like the player ready to help this team defy preseason expectations (uh, mine) that they would miss the playoffs and be a drag on the West.
Welcome (back) to the NBA, Lakers No. 24.