switching his jersey number from 23 to 6. This follows a change, in the last couple of years, of Kobe Bryant from number 8 to number 24. As a lifelong Chicago Bulls fan, I first want to say, obsessed over the greatest much? (I get it, Kobe, one higher than MJ! I suppose if your career can't hold a candle to Jordan*, you might as well beat him in jersey number.) What I really want to ask, though, is if either of these two were ever a kid.
Despite all of the propaganda, kids can be miserable, mean little bastards. Of course they can be wonderful and sweet and smart too. Often the same kids can be both. But one thing that doesn't change is that kids are capable of extreme cruelty with one another, and two central ways they go about this is in the arenas of appearance and class. Basketball jerseys function in both realms. Jerseys are expensive. You can find some cheaper ones, but the "real," coveted ones can be ridiculously expensive. (And kids know the difference.)
James and Bryant wear the league's two most popular jerseys. There are thousands and thousands of these things out there. Now, it's come to my attention that this isn't popular knowledge, but it's the case: people make fun of you if you have an out of date jersey. If you have a player's jersey and he gets traded or signed elsewhere, and you keep wearing the old one, people will make fun of you. It's exactly the sort of thing a kid might use to ridicule another kid. So when Bryant switched from 8 to 24, he pretty much screwed over hundreds of thousands of kids with his jersey. The richer ones could afford to buy the new edition. The poorer kids couldn't. And now the new best player in the league is doing it too. I just wonder, were these guys never kids? Do they not think about this stuff?
I do wonder if the socioeconomic class of the two of them comes into effect. Bryant was an affluent kid, famously the offspring of former pro Jellybean Bryant, and lived in a tony suburb of Philadelphia along with Italy. James I'm a little less sure of, but from what I understand I believe he lived a comfortable middle class childhood. Regardless, I wish they'd take a little time and think about the ramifications a bit more before they do something fickle.
*Since now, to my incredulity, some people think there is some sort of a debate: Jordan won 6 titles as unquestionably the best player and first option, won 6 Finals MVPs, 5 regular season MVPs, 10 All NBA First teams, 9 All Defensive First Teams, a Defensive Player of the Year award, and made 14 All-Star Teams. He has the record for highest scoring average in league history in both the regular season and the postseason. He scored more a game than Kobe, shot for a better percentage, rebounded more, got more assists, more steals, and turned the ball over less. All of those career totals, meanwhile, reflect Jordan playing into his 40s at a significantly reduced level, hurting all of his percentages, whereas Bryant's statistics stand now when he is in his prime, before a similar regression. There's no debate.
Update: Young Will from the League points out that James actually had a hard childhood.