Will Lakers give LeBron James the Kobe treatment and retire both numbers when he hangs it up?

Lakers' LeBron James in a No. 23 jersey, left, and a No. 6 jersey
Lakers forward LeBron James has worn both No. 23 and No. 6 jerseys for the Lakers. He is switching back to No. 23 next season.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times; Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Will LeBron James deserve the Kobe Bryant treatment?

Bryant is the only player in NBA history to have two numbers retired by the same team. He wore No. 8 for his first 10 seasons and No. 24 for his last 10 seasons — all, of course, with the Lakers.

James has alternated between No. 23 and No. 6 during his own 20-year career, and he’s worn both with the Lakers. He announced over the weekend that he’ll shelve No. 6 in favor of No. 23 next season out of respect for the late 11-time NBA champion and civil rights activist Bill Russell, whose No. 6 was retired by the league.

A choked-up Pau Gasol has his No. 16 Lakers jersey retired to the rafters next to Kobe Bryant’s No. 24 during a ceremony Tuesday night.

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What will the Lakers do when James calls it a career? They’ve already retired the jerseys of 12 players, and with Bryant’s two and Pau Gasol’s No. 16 retired in March, that’s a baker’s dozen of retired numbers.


James likely will be next, but it makes sense for the Lakers to retire only No. 23 because that’s what he wore when L.A. won the NBA championship in 2020 and it’s what he’ll wear for his 21st season.

He wore No. 6 the last three seasons, and, yes, that was on his back when James became the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, but with the number already retired in Russell’s name, it doesn’t seem likely that the Lakers would retire it for James as well.

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Another team probably will, however. Although he wore No. 23 with the Cleveland Cavaliers in his first seven seasons, he switched to No. 6 while winning two NBA titles in four years with the Miami Heat.

The Heat likely won’t blink when it comes to retiring James’ No. 6 even though it’s on the rafters for Russell. They’re already the only NBA team to have retired the jersey numbers of athletes who never played for them.

They retired No. 23 in 2003 for Michael Jordan. And they raised the No. 13 of Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino. If any team is going to retire a number twice — especially for the best player on their two title-winning teams — it’s going to be the Heat.

The Cavaliers are a lock to retire James’ No. 23 because that’s what he wore when he returned to Cleveland in 2014 and led them to their only NBA title in 2016.


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That would make James the first NBA player to have a jersey retired by three teams. Six players have been so honored by two teams: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Lakers and Bucks); Julius Irving (76ers and Nets); Oscar Robertson (Bucks and Kings/Royals); Pete Maravich (Jazz and Hawks); Earl Monroe (Knicks and Bullets/Wizards); and Shaquille O’Neal (Lakers and Heat).

Shaq seems perturbed that the Orlando Magic haven’t retired his No. 32 despite having led them to their first NBA Finals appearance in 1995. O’Neal recently dropped a rap lyric on the topic: “If you count my points and rebounds quadruple platinum. Got two retired jerseys in two different cities, I’m still waiting on that call from the Orlando Magic.”

James has dabbled in the recording booth a couple times, none of them memorable. It’s probably safe to say he won’t complain in a song if the Lakers decide to retire only his No. 23.

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Lakers retired jersey numbers

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (33)
Elgin Baylor (22)
Kobe Bryant (8, 24)
Wilt Chamberlain (13)
Pau Gasol (16)
Gail Goodrich (25)
Magic Johnson (32)
George Mikan (99)
Shaquille O’Neal (34)
Jerry West (44)
Jamaal Wilkes (52)
James Worthy (42)