By Craig Kwasniewski
Oh wait a minute, this is the new Kobe jersey. That's right, he changed his number from 8 to 24 this offseason.
Recently, the only other notable NBA players to change their number was Michael Jordan in 1995 and Charles Barkley in 1991-92. Jordan wore 45 in his return from baseball and was embarrassed by Orlando's Nick Anderson in the playoffs. "Number 23, he could just blow right by you. Number 45, he revs up, but doesn't really take off," said Anderson after a game 1 loss that included two embarrassing turnovers by Jordan. Number 45 was put on the shelves permanently after that.
Barkley wore number 32 instead of 34 in honor of Magic Johnson, who had announced prior to the start of 1991-92 that he was HIV-positive. Chuck went back to 34 the next season.
Basically, neither change was ground shattering and in both cases they went back to their original number.
This takes me back to the reason why Kobe changed his number in the first place. Speculation over the reason for the change is all over the place. They include:
1. Kobe is three times better this season.
2. The over/under of shots attempted per game is 24.
3. The number 24 is one better than 23 (Jordan).
4. The Nike Air Jordans (currently at AJ XXI) will end their run at 23 with Kobe taking over with a new signature shoe for the Jordan Brand. The equivalent of Air Jordan 24's.
5. Kobe's trying to change his image. This even includes changing his number.
6. The Crazy-8: Adidas released a retro KB8, Kobe's Adidas shoe from 1998. Because Kobe is under a Nike contract, Adidas renamed the shoe Crazy-8. Making money off Kobe's name without having to sponsor him. Kobe changed his number to counter the move.
Personally, I like that one the most. There's good venom (Black Mamba?) in a story about Bryant sticking it to Adidas, which is very Kobe-like.
Nobody really knows why Kobe made the change. It's weird because most athletes would trade their illegitimate kids for the chance to keep their numbers. They're very superstitious with their own number.
Yet Kobe, always one to stick a middle finger at the norm, goes and changes his jersey number mid-career. I guess we'll find out this season if the change works or if someone like Raja Bell says, "Number 8, he could just blow right by you. Number 24, he revs up, but doesn't really take off."