LOS ANGELES – Star-studded, indeed.
Packed. No doubt.
The fans outside were off the charts.
The STAPLES Center was the place to be Monday night as the Los Angeles Lakers retired both of Kobe Bryants numbers – 8 and 24 – he wore during his shoo-in Hall of Fame career that helped bring the franchise five championships in 20 seasons.
For sure, the game between the Golden State Warriors and Lakers was secondary, almost an afterthought.
Most just wanted it to be halftime, to see and hear Kobe once again, to see his jerseys in the rafters with the other greats who wore the purple and gold.
And when the half arrived, the place went nuts. It was loud. Here we go. Magic was about to fill the air, give us a special moment to cherish, one we would never forget.
Then when the ceremony started, it was flat, mostly quiet.
At no other point was the crowd at a fevered-pitch.
Check out Kobe Bryant AKA The Black Mamba’s jersey retirement ceremony as the Los Angeles Lakers organization retires both number 8 and number 24 into the rafters of the Staples Center alongside Lakers greats!!!
Not during a cartoon video tribute – which was damn good, not during the LeBron James-Kobe Muppet-like videos on the big screens, not through team president and Laker legend Magic Johnsons speech, not through owner Jeanie Buss speech and sadly, not at any point through Kobes unscripted speech.
In the end, it was just a dud.
This coming from someone in the building, someone who was honestly looking forward to the event.
And to be fair, most of these kind of ceremonies can be corny, half-baked and leave a lot to be desired.
Maybe it came off differently on NBA TV with folks watching from their living rooms.
But this was Kobe. In LA.
This guy put in work in that city and fans adored him.
Maybe, the real fans were priced out, giving up their seats to corporate America to make Christmas loot for presents.
Whatever it was. It wasnt a legendary night for a legend.
Even with Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and A.I. – legends themselves – in the building to pay homage to Kobe.
Kobe, 20 months away from his last game, looked good, happy. He wore a big smile and was dressed like a million dollars. He even enjoyed poking fun at the media in his pregame presser.
When he was finally handed the microphone at center court, Kobe first talked about the legendary jerseys in the rafters and how they inspired him to greatness.
Kobe talked about the future, the present Lakers. He hopes he has left a legacy that they can embrace and want to draw inspiration from.
Its about embodying the spirit that exists in those jerseys up there and carrying this organization forward, so that the next 20 years is better than the past 20 years, Bryant said.
Maybe, just maybe retiring two different jerseys numbers was fitting since both represent different parts of his career.
Wearing No. 8, in his first 10 years, Kobe won three straight titles with Shaquille ONeal. No doubt a high. The low was the Colorado rape case chapter.
The next 10 years, wearing 24, also produced titles, two more without Shaq. At the time, it was big for Kobe and his fans to step outside the shadow of Shaq.
For sure, the debate on sports-talk radio and the TV sports debate shows will be about which Kobe was the best.
Tonight, Kobe Bryant’s #8 and #24 uniforms will be retired by the Los Angeles Lakers. Join us in celebrating The Black Mamba’s illustrious career as we go through the archive with the Ultimate Kobe Bryant Mixtape!
I kind of go back and forth (on which number he prefers), Bryant said. (No. 8) has something that 24 will never, ever, ever have and thats the ability to grow hair. So its tough.
Definitely a nice light moment that drew laughs in the pregame presser.
For this reporter, it would have to be the No. 24 Kobe. After all, the No. 8 Kobe wasnt even the best player on his team. Shaq was the most dominant player in the NBA during that time. Clearly, Kobe was Robin. Thats not debatable.
In the end, Kobe was Kobe. He was even, measured and understated. That was no surprised.
This was a night the fans were supposed to take it to another level, let out the appreciation of what Kobe did for two decades, wearing two different numbers in the same city.
Instead, they were lame. Not Kobe. He never is.