Which Kobe Bryant Was Better: No. 8 or No. 24?

Tonight, the Los Angeles Lakers will retire both of Kobe's jersey numbers. But which one represents the absolute best of Kobe, according to the numbers?

Tonight, the Los Angeles Lakers will retire both of Kobe Bryant's jersey numbers, honoring his 20-year career.

There was originally some debate as to which number the Lakers should retire for Kobe between number-8 (worn from 1996-2006) and number-24 (2006-2016), but ultimately he will become the first player ever to have two jerseys retired by the same team.

Rightfully so, too, considering both periods (each consisting of 10 seasons) were absolutely littered with achievements:

Achievement#8 (1996-2006)#24 (2006-2016)

As you can see, those accomplishments were fairly equal in nature across the two eras, as well.

Kobe was named an NBA All-Star in each of his final 10 seasons (including the one in which he played only six games), but for the two extra All-Star nods he had while wearing the number-24, he had one fewer All-NBA honor (seven) than during his time as number-8 (eight). It is worth noting, however, that all seven All-NBA nods in the latter era were First Team honors, while only four of his original eight made the top line (including two entries on the Second Team and two on the Third Team).

He won one more championship in his early era, but he got his lone MVP award in the latter one. He was named to an All-Defensive Team 12 times, split evenly over both time periods.

If you're trying to determine which Kobe was better -- number-8 or number-24 -- the achievements alone don't really tell the whole story. For that, let's look at the numbers (this is a website called numberFire, after all).


All numbers per

The raw stats from both 10-year periods are eerily similar. He essentially shot more efficiently and accumulated more defensive stats in his early years, but Kobe put up more points, rebounds, and assists in the latter years.

In both cases, however, the numbers were only off by a fraction across the board. If this were a comparison between two separate players and you were trying to determine which guy deserved to be higher on an all-time list, it would be virtually impossible to decide between number-8 Kobe and number-24 Kobe from the raw box scores alone.

That's where some of the more advanced analytics come in handy.

While the effective field goal (eFG%, weighted twos and threes) and true shooting (TS%, weighted twos, threes, and free throws) percentages are close, early Kobe edges out late Kobe in player efficiency rating (PER), total win shares (WS), win shares per 48 minutes (WS/48), box plus/minus (BPM), and value over replacement player (VORP):


Granted, early Kobe gets some help in the cumulative numbers (WS and VORP) from playing 68 more games and 1,841 more minutes, but the rate-based numbers (PER, WS/48, BPM) corroborate the story of a more efficient early Kobe.

Ultimately, number-24 Kobe gets some props for winning two Shaquille O'Neal-less titles, two Finals MVPs (Shaq won each time during the 2000-2002 three-peat), and the one and only MVP award, but statistically, number-8 Kobe was a more efficient player who contributed more wins to his team.

Well, in theory.

Interestingly enough, number-8 Kobe had a combined regular season and playoff record of 543-290 (.652 win-loss percentage), while number-24 Kobe went 259-127 (.671). Sure, it was over a smaller sample size, but it's still worth noting that late-era Kobe won a higher percentage of games (ultra inefficient late years included) than the early-era Kobe who won three titles with Shaq and an all-time great Lakers squad.

Regardless of which Kobe Bryant you've got in the debate, the point of all this is that both versions of the Black Mamba were all-time greats in their own right and the Lakers are absolutely doing the right thing by retiring both numbers.