Few, if any, in sports history both embodied and embraced the mythology surrounding them quite like five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant did.
When the superstar basketball player tore his Achilles tendon, he reportedly became obsessed with the story of Achilles from the Trojan War. Bryant, a legendary warrior in his own right and in his daily mentality, was certainly mythological in each and every sense in his accomplishments during his time on this Earth.
Numerology, the belief that numbers have an almost supernatural impact on life, often plays a large role in myth. It is one of the reasons why teams retire certain numbers for their best players; the Lakers chose to retire Bryant’s No. 8 and No. 24 in December 2017.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has said that no one on his team will ever wear his numbers again.
With the sudden and tragic loss of Bryant earlier this week, some believe that the numbers should get similar treatment to what Jackie Robinson (No. 42) has in the MLB and what Wayne Gretzky (No. 99) has in the NHL with a league-wide mandate.
While no such decree has become official, several players in the NBA have taken matters into their own hands. Below are each of those to have made such a decision, which helps illustrate just how wide-spread his impact on the game was. We will continue to update this post as more news will become available.
SPENCER DINWIDDIE, BROOKLYN NETS
Change: No. 8 to No. 26
Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie grew up in Los Angeles, Calif. and has spoken about his deep love for Bryant. Before switching to his own brand of sneakers (K8IROS), he wore the Kobe AD Mid shoes when he played.
The defending winner of the All-Star Weekend Skills Challenge recently spoke about why he changed his number as well as his recent experience chatting with Bryant in Brooklyn (via NBA.com):
“He was everything to a lot of kids and I was one of them … “I met Kobe several times, exchange pleasantries and text messages and things and, maybe this is a little bit over-exaggerated but I felt like this was the first time he was looking at me as the basketball player Spencer, you know what I mean? Briefly, told you guys how much he meant to all the people where I’m from and for him to tell me that in his book I’m an All-Star and stuff like that, talk about a popularity contest before and you don’t win things like that when you’re me, so for him to say that, I didn’t need to be selected anymore, because I was an All-Star, you feel me, it’s not just like my family, it was the guy.”
When The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that several players around the league would change their jersey number, Dinwiddie’s was the first and only name listed.
Dinwiddie has offered to pay for the first 260 people who want their apparel switched from No. 8 to No. 26 as a bit of a thank you for the support.
TERRENCE ROSS, ORLANDO MAGIC
Change: No. 8 to No. 31
While he went to high school in Portland, Ore., Ross was born in Long Beach, Calif. near Los Angeles.
The Orlando wing spoke about his memories of Bryant during a recent interview (via The Guardian):
“It was my rookie year. We played him in L.A. I didn’t play that game but it was kind of like a front seat to the Lakers show. He killed us, he killed us bad. He hit a couple threes in clutch moments, he dunked to take it into overtime so I was like, “This is like vintage Kobe. And I remember my mom was sitting courtside and she was looking me the whole time, like, ‘This is bad for ‘y’all’. But it was fun, I enjoyed it.”
Ross, who had only just switched to No. 8 before this season began, will once again sport No. 31 on the court.
After leaving his sneaker deal with Li-Ning in China, he started wearing the Nike Kobe AD Mid sneakers.
ZHAIRE SMITH, PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
Change: No. 8 to No. 5
Philadelphia 76ers wing Zhaire Smith was the No. 16 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. He recently told reporters that he wanted to wear No. 2 while in the NBA because that is what he wore at Texas Tech, though that was retired by the Sixers to honor Moses Malone.
Instead, he confirmed that he chose No. 8 because that was what Bryant wore in the NBA. Smith said he used some of the wild stories about Bryant’s work ethic to inspire him (via NBC Sports):
“I think I heard one of his stories where he was in the gym since 6 a.m., went home, came back. I tried to do that for one day but my body was dead, so I never did that again.”
He wore No. 7 in his first game after Bryant’s death but will switch to No. 5 for the remainder of the season.
Smith had a custom jersey that had the Philadelphia 76ers name on the front with the last name “Bryant” and the No. 8 sported on the back. He said that he will one day use that as the centerpiece of his man cave.
JAHLIL OKAFOR, NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Change: No. 8 to No. 9
New Orleans Pelicans big man Jahlil Okafor will reportedly no longer wear No. 8 but has not yet decided what the new number will be. Okafor wore No. 22 in high school and No. 15 when he played at Duke. He also wore No. 4 during his brief tenure with the Nets. While he is a big man, he has rocked the Nike Kobe AD NXT 360 kicks on the court.
MOE HARKLESS, LA CLIPPERS
Change: No. 8 to No. 11
The Clippers forward is one of Bryant’s many superfans across the league. He once slept in a locker room “to see Kobe practice” and has worn Bryant’s line of sneakers for several seasons. When he was drafted, he told reporters that he was looking forward to guarding Bryant.
QUINN COOK, LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Change: No. 2 to No. 28
The guard has said that his late father Ted Cook, who passed away when Quinn was just fourteen years old, was the biggest Lakers fan he had ever met.
As such, he was a huge fan of the franchise growing up as well (via Spectrum Sports Nets):
“I can tell you every Laker thing since I’ve been living. I watched every game, every playoffs every championship, so like I was telling my brother last night, it’s still surreal coming in here and you see all these legendary numbers, you see all the trophies, you see the years that they won it and it’s just more motivation to try and get one this year.”
Cook did not wear No. 8 or No. 24 but told Shams Charania that he no longer felt comfortable wearing his number because of its ties to Bryant’s daughter, who also perished in the terrible crash. He said that “it’s hers” and should be retired.
The former NCAA (2015) and NBA (2018) champion was spotted mourning the loss of Bryant outside Staples Center earlier this week.
MARKIEFF MORRIS, DETROIT PISTONS
Change: No. 8 to No. 88
Last year, Morris tweeted that Bryant deserved a spot as one of the “Top 3” players of all-time. He has previously sported the Nike Zoom Kobe 4 Protro shoes on the court. During his first NBA game after the terrible tragedy that involved Bryant, Morris wrote “Mamba Forever” and “RIP 8/24” on his Nike sneakers.
ALEC BURKS, GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Change: No. 8 to No. 20
Back in 2014, NBA wing Alec Burks completed a nasty behind-the-back crossover when guarded by Bryant. To this day, it has been one of the most memorable moments of his career. Burks will tribute Bryant by changing his number from No. 8 to No. 20.
MASON PLUMLEE, DENVER NUGGETS
Change: No. 24 to No. 7
Plumlee released a statement explaining why he chose to switch from No. 24 to No. 7 (via Denver Post):
“Over the past few years, I’ve had an opportunity to spend time working out in the offseason at Lower Merion High School (where Bryant attended). I’ve gotten to know Kobe’s former teammates and coaches. I’ve had a chance to better understand what and who shaped Kobe as a player and a person. That experience takes on heightened significance now as I consider with profound gratitude how Kobe has inspired me and an entire generation … The passion he played and prepared with and his dedication, determination and unrelenting work ethic set the standard. You can’t overstate the impact he had on our sport and the NBA family. Kobe stands alone in the history of our game. His jersey and all that it symbolizes should as well.”
Plumlee joins his former Duke teammates Quinn Cook and Jahlil Okafor to make such a decision.
EMMANUEL MUDIAY, UTAH JAZZ
Change: No. 8 to No. 15
The 23-year-old guard tweeted that his reaction to Bryant’s death was “not even about basketball” when he heard the news. He has previously tweeted that Bryant “has the greatest footwork” in NBA history. The former No. 7 overall pick spoke about what he loved about Bryant back in 2015 (via LA Times):
“I admire his determination. That’s what made me a fan of his. He’s got a dog in him and that’s kind of how I approach the game. You got to be a dog.”
Mudiay will now wear No. 15, which is reportedly the number he wore when he was a kid.
MIYE ONI, UTAH JAZZ
Change: No. 24 to No. 81
Utah Jazz rookie Miye Oni wore No. 8 in summer league competition and then was wearing No. 24 to start his career. But as noted by The Athletic’s Shams Charania, Oni will switch to No. 81 in honor of Bryant’s historic scoring performance. The change is also a nod to the 818 area code in the valley of Los Angeles.
NOTE: This story will be updated as more players make the decision to change their jersey number.