by September 27, 2006

I’ve been meaning to talk about this for a while. Call me cynical, but I’m not buying that Kobe changed to No. 24 just because it was the first number he wore in high school. What, it took him this long to remember that fact? Was he repressing his early years? If he really wanted to wear 24, why not change earlier? Or wear it from the beginning? Obviously the Lakers haven’t retired it or anything.

No, 8 worked fine for years, almost a decade. He sold a lot of jerseys, came up with a good reason for wearing it (adding together his adidas ABCD number of 143), never seemed to have a problem with it. Kobe made 8 a number that would forever be associated with him, and pretty much him alone. Well, and Antoine Walker. And Yogi Berra. And Troy Aikman. And Steve Young. And Gary Carter.

But look, it doesn’t make any sense for him to change now. He’s coming up on 30, as established as an NBA player can be. There’s really no precedent of an athlete of his stature just randomly changing his number in the prime of his career without changing teams or being Michael Jordan (and we all remember how well that worked out for him). Then again, I have some theories.

1. Nike is behind this. New shoe contract, new number. What with the charges in Colorado, and adidas re-issuing his old signature shoes as “The Crazy Eights,” maybe the powers-that-be thought it would be best for Kobe to make a clean break. Since he’s obviously a Laker for life, this was all they could do.

2. Kobe wants to sell more jerseys. After a dip in sales following the whole Colorado thing, Kobe’s back in the top five for jersey sales. But seeing that he’s been on the same team and worn the same number for his whole career, how does he get established fans—who already have his jersey—to buy new ones? Oh.

3. The Spinal Tap theory. It’s…it’s…one more. One more than Michael Jordan’s—and, more importantly, Lebron James’s—23. There’s no doubt that Kobe has been eclipsed in popularity by the young Mr. James. There’s also no doubt that, on some level, this bothers Kobe a great deal. This is a simple, if childish, solution. Watch him turn it up to 11 on the court this year, too.

4. He’s a big Jack Bauer fan. Hey, I’ve never watched the show, but that doesn’t mean Kobe hasn’t. It definitely wouldn’t surprise me if Kobe identified with someone who saves the world on a weekly basis.

5. He’s a big Tom Chambers fan. OK, that one I DON’T believe.