The Los Angeles Lakes Retire Kobe Bryant’s Number 8 and 24 Jerseys!

Credit: Chris Carlson/Associated Press

Credit: Chris Carlson/Associated Press

According to Bleacher Report, on a Monday night filled with hyperbolic, effusive praise, perhaps the most noteworthy bit of cheerleading came from President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson, who earnestly pleaded with Kobe Bryant to bring together the disparate tribes of the United States of America.

“This country needs to come together, and you were able to bring us all together,” Johnson said in addressing Kobe Bryant at a halftime ceremony Monday night to retire two of his jerseys, Nos. 8 and 24, to the rafters of the Staples Center.

For as taken with the moment as the arena was, identifying Bryant as the figure who could pave over the cracks in our society is an interesting choice considering the totality of his playing career.

There’s no mistaking Bryant’s impact on the city of Los Angeles and the Lakers franchise. His five championships, a 2008 MVP award and a truckload of offensive records endeared him to millions of people and earned him the rare distinction of having the two jersey numbers he wore retired by the same team.

“People feel connected to him,” Lakers coach Luke Walton told reporters before Monday night’s 116-114 overtime defeat to the Golden State Warriors. “He’s everything to this city.”

The Lakers even erected a temporary carnival called Kobeland—complete with a functioning ferris wheel—to celebrate the moment. In truth, all of Los Angeles could be considered Kobeland, a place where an 8 or 24 jersey could be considered formal attire.

Outside of L.A., though, it’s hard to overstate how unpopular he was for many years—the sullen, single-minded assassin eager to bury your favorite team and every other team in the league. He was unapproachable, unknowable and surly by default. Is there an athlete more beloved by a town and more loathed outside of it? Tom Brady, perhaps?

With the same amount of diligence he showed on the basketball court, Bryant has made every effort to reach out to the greater world since he announced his retirement in 2015.

He’s a product pitchman, a business owner and the subject of a short film that might end up nominated for an Academy Award. He’s not quite a man of the people (that glittering wedding ring he wears on his left hand costs more than the average yearly salary), but at least he’s trying.

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