WHENEVER JALEN WILLIAMS When he reaches for his phone, he sees a collage of photos of Kobe Bryant as the lock screen.
The 22-year-old's first tattoo Oklahoma City Thunder The best thing I ever saw was a portrait of Bryant's face, steely-eyed and chewing on the collar of his uniform. It covers the outside of his right leg from the ankle to just below the knee.
The Mamba merch in his personal collection includes sneakers, shirts, magazines, posters, action figures — and blankets. Plural.
When he's not snuggling up in one, Williams can be seen donning his Thunder's No. 8 jersey, a tribute to Bryant scoring buckets for one of the Western Conference's best teams.
“I wore 10, his [Team] USA number, in high school,” Williams told ESPN. “And then I got to college and let someone else have 10 because we had 24.”
“I wanted to change somehow [in the NBA]. So I thought, 'I'll just do his rookie year thing.'” And I'll do 8.'”
Williams' loyalty to the Los Angeles Lakers The legend may be extreme, but he is far from alone in his decision to wear one of Bryant's two numbers when he takes the court.
Four years after his tragic death in a helicopter crash, Bryant's legacy will be carried on by the league's next wave of players.
While No. 23 may have been the number of choice for an earlier influx of stars, e.g Lebron James whose basketball upbringing was primarily influenced by Michael Jordan, today only 16 players wear it – including James.
This season, 39 NBA players have worn either number 8 or number 24, including young players like Williams Chicago Bulls' Zach LaVineThe San Antonio Spurs' Devin Vassell and that Brooklyn Nets' Cam Thomas.
On Thursday, the Lakers will unveil a statue honoring Bryant outside Crypto.com Arena. It already appeared to be one of the busiest days on the NBA calendar as the trade deadline hit at 12:00 p.m. PT. Not to mention, LA hosts the defending champions Denver Nuggets at 7 p.m. that evening. However, for numerology it was important to include the statue ceremony at 3:30 p.m.
Thursday is February 8, 2024 – 02/24/24 – a calendar date that includes not only both of Bryant's numbers, but also the number 2, which his late daughter Gianna, who also died in the accident, wore as a junior basketball player -Phenomenon.
If there's one group that appreciates the decision by Bryant's widow Vanessa and the Lakers organization to hold the ceremony by that date, it's this emerging group of Kobe supporters.
“He’s like the Jordan of our generation,” Thomas, the Nets’ third-year shooting guard, told ESPN. “Like the other guys liked Jordan, that’s how we like Kobe.”
BRYANT WAS PERFORMED at 6-6, 192 pounds when he was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets with No. 13 in 1996. He never played a game for the franchise after the Lakers gave up center Vlade Divac to acquire him in what would become one of the most lopsided trades in league history.
Nearly 30 years later, Charlotte drafted another scrawny shooting guard – the 6-5, 185-pound – in the first round Nick Smith Jr. with the number 27 pick in last year's draft.
Smith wore No. 3 at Arkansas, but that was already taken Terry Rozier when he was selected.
“I model my game after Kobe Bryant,” Smith told ESPN. “So, 8 was available. I thought, 'Shit, why not?'”
There was also the novelty of wearing the Hornets jersey, something Bryant never wore.
“That played a role too,” Smith said. “It was something me and my friends thought about, so I just did it.”
For Green, who grew up in Australia, his decision was dictated by his favorite childhood Christmas present: flying to LA to watch Bryant and the Lakers host James intense heat when he was 10 years old.
“I wanted to wear number 8 because that’s how Kobe started his career. He was my favorite player as a kid,” Green told ESPN. “Always cool, just to see where your dreams can take you.”
“No. 8 was available and that mentality, that Kobe mentality, kind of motivated me to get through the first few years overseas,” Tate told ESPN. “I’m just trying to get back here.”
After two seasons abroad, he signed a free agent contract with the Rockets.
“When I was in Australia I went from 8 to 24. Then when I got to Houston I had the opportunity to get back to 8,” Tate said. “It’s just something that’s in the back of my mind. Just this mentality, this everyday grind, this everyday work.” [ethic] Kobe had that. And when I got here my rookie year, I wanted to have that same hunger.
Vassell cares so much about wearing the number 24 that he has a tattoo on his left thigh of four jerseys side by side: his high school number 24, next to his Florida State number 24, next to his Spurs number 24, alongside Bryant's Nos. 24 and 8 Lakers.
“I definitely watch his highlights all the time,” Vassell told ESPN. “I watch his footwork. How he gets to his middle positions, how he gets to his positions at all. He's a great person to learn from and it's tragic what happened to him, but the legacy he left behind will never be forgotten. “Trust me.”
The Nets beat the host Lakers 130-122 last month, and Thomas had one of his best games of the season, going 13-for-18 from the field and scoring 33 points in 32 minutes off the bench.
Cam Thomas is undoubtedly blushing
Cam Thomas shoots a three-pointer to give the Nets a 20-point lead over the Lakers.
Thomas, who wears No. 24 for Brooklyn and wore No. 8 in his first youth recreational league, generated motivation by immersing himself in his surroundings.
“Sometimes I look there when I’m sitting on the bench,” Thomas said of Bryant’s numbers hanging from the ceiling. “Given the fact that he is no longer wearing two jerseys, it is always unrealistic to be in the arena and play there.”
Maybe the most The announced rising star with number 24 is a Hornets rookie Brandon Millerthe No. 2 pick in last year's draft.
At 6-7, 200 pounds and with a scorer's mentality, the parallels to Bryant are easy to find. Only Miller rejects the connection, like Bryant rejects a screen Karl Malone in his first All-Star Game.
“I think everyone who sees 24 [figures that it] honors Kobe,” Miller told ESPN. “But I think my situation is kind of different.
Miller received criticism before the draft when he announced that George was his choice for the greatest player of all time.
But be GOAT's GOAT is Bryant – and the reason George wore number 24, as he explained when his college, Fresno State, retired his jersey.
“Kobe was my inspiration,” George said at the ceremony in 2019. “The 24 was meant to honor him, the way he approached the game.”
“That’s how I fell in love with basketball.”
WILLIAMS' CHOICE FOR Bryant's ink doesn't have the look he would choose for the statue's unveiling on Thursday.
Among today's game's players, bound together by wearing numbers 8 and 24, there is significantly less consensus about what the statue should look like than about their shared reverence for the late Laker star. (The franchise has kept the details secret, acting in accordance with the Bryant family's wishes.)
“The 81-point game where he points up,” Williams said, “or when he flexes the jersey.” [and] Shouting.”
“This one where he rips his jersey [to the side] and screaming,” Minaya said, referring to Bryant staging a riot Phoenix Suns in the 2006 playoffs by scoring the winning goal in overtime. “That’s a pretty good iconic moment.”
Bruno Fernandowho wears number 24 Atlanta Hawkssaid the statue should show Bryant lining up his gorgeous pull-up sweater – the silhouette that inspired more than two million signatures on an online petition to replace it Jerry West with Bryant as the NBA logo.
“That would make the most sense,” Fernando said. “That just describes Kobe Bean.”
Smith mentioned the most epic achievement of Bryant's career: the Game 7 win over the rival Boston Celtics Win the title in 2010.
“The pose? Probably the fifth championship against Boston when he was on the scoresheet,” Smith said. “Arms out.”
And while Bryant's legacy is cemented in statue form in front of the home Kobe built, the numbers 8 and 24 will continue to walk up and down NBA courts across the league.
“I play basketball, so I think that’s a pretty therapeutic way to think about it,” Williams said. “It still seems surreal that it happened, but at the same time just try to get by with what it is and just go out there and compete and try to survive it that way.”