Sixers Legend Shuts down Kobe Bryant Jersey Retirement Buzz: ‘No Comparison’

Kobe Bryant, Julius Erving

Getty Former Philadelphia 76ers Julius Erving, Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers, and Bryant's Lower Merion High School basketball coach Gregg Downer share a moment.

Shortly after his death on July 31, Bill Russell was honored by the NBA, which announced a permanent, league-wide retirement of the No. 6 jersey. Russell, who competed against the Philadelphia 76ers throughout his storied Celtics career, was an 11-time champion and five-time MVP. Even more impressive, the legend was a 12-time All-Star, earning the honor every season of his career except his rookie campaign.

Russell was also a trailblazing coach. When he took over as a player-coach in 1966, he became the league’s first Black head coach in NBA history.

So the league setting aside Russell’s No. 6 as a posthumous honor makes perfect sense.

But in almost no time, the Celtics’ principal rival demanded the same treatment for one of their native sons. Yes, Lakers fans wanted Kobe Bryant, who died in a plane accident in 2020, to have his number retired in the rafters.

And recently, Sixers legend Julius Erving weighed in on the debate.

Dr. J: ‘I Wouldn’t Even Try to Compare Kobe Bryant to Russell’

Erving was candid about the buzz surrounding a potential Kobe Bryant jersey retirement.

“I don’t think he should be compared with the Russell situation,” Erving explained to TMZ at Los Angeles International Airport. “We’re fresh into that but let’s see how that works out. Maybe at some point in time. Bill was 86 years old, so address it like that to an 86-year-old — multiple champions, multiple coaching champions, multiple on-and-off the court champion, or whatever — there’s no comparison. I wouldn’t even try to compare Kobe Bryant to Russell.”

Erving, who played against Russell (and coincidentally, Bryant’s father), explained that his feelings involve no disrespect for the Laker legend. Rather, his strong stance comes from the fact that Russell’s legacy is simply unmatched.

“Bill was a very special individual and what he did for basketball, no one else could ever do again,” Dr. J said.

Erving has a point.

In numerous categories, Russell dominated his era. He stands at the league’s apex of career rebounds per game, playoff rebounds per game, and career defensive win shares.

Erving: ‘It’s More of a Franchise Situation with the Lakers’

But the Sixers legend also explained that Bryant’s jersey does belong in at least some rafters. Just not any outside of central Los Angeles.

“It’s more of a franchise situation with the Lakers,” Erving argued. “If they wanted to do it, which I think they already have, that makes sense — but for the whole league to do it, probably not.”

Dr. J is spot on. Back in 2017, the Lakers retired not one, but two of Bryant’s numbers: No. 8 and No. 24. But the Lakers aren’t alone.

Some 1,500 miles southeast, the Dallas Mavericks also retired Bryant’s number following his death. Shortly after, Donovan Mitchell and Royce O’Neale took to Twitter to ask the same of the league.

“PLEASE @NBA RETIRED 24! LEAGUE WIDE!!,” tweeted Mitchell. “Don’t forget 8 too,” O’Neale followed up.

While Dr. J may be out on retiring Bryant’s number, that hasn’t stopped current Sixers from honoring the Lakers legend. Two years ago, Joel Embiid wore Bryant’s No. 24 to honor “the reason he started watching and playing basketball.”

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