San Antonio • In the wake of league icon Kobe Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash on Sunday, myriad players throughout the NBA have decided to give up wearing jersey numbers 8 and 24 — the numbers Bryant wore during his career — in tribute to the late superstar.
The Jazz’s two players with those numbers, Emmanuel Mudiay and Miye Oni, have decided to follow suit.
It was announced prior to Wednesday’s game against the Spurs that Mudiay will switch from jersey No. 8 to No. 15. Oni, a rookie out of Yale who has spent parts of the season with the G League-affiliate Salt Lake City Stars, will give up his No. 24 and wear No. 81 instead.
Mudiay said after the Spurs’ 127-120 victory that Bryant offering him a helping hand early in his career endeared the league’s fourth all-time leading scorer to him.
“A lot of people don’t know — Kobe, he really was helping out a lot my rookie year. We exchanged numbers, we kept contact for a little bit,” he said. “… I was a young player coming into the league; he saw a little bit of similarity as fast as being that young, age-wise. And he kinda took me under his wing and told me how the NBA is, how to work — everybody knows about his work ethic, and he showed me a lot of the working habits, telling me how to have a certain mindset.”
Players are typically forbidden from changing numbers midseason unless they are traded to another franchise. Indeed, because of merchandise supplies, the process of even changing numbers from one season to the next requires petitioning the league for approval by a specific deadline.
The NBA, however, apparently considered this a unique situation, and has been granting such requests from players around the league.
The process began on Tuesday, when Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie announced he was changing from 8 to 26. Former Jazz guard Alec Burks, who plays for the Warriors, is switching from 8 to 20. Terrence Ross of the Orlando Magic is going from 8 to 31. Markieff Morris of the Pistons will go from 8 to 88. Trevor Ariza of Portland is going from 8 to 0. Robert Covington of the Timberwolves is going from 8 to 33. Maurice Harkless of the Clippers is changing from 8 to 11. Zhaire Smith of the 76ers — who has acknowledged originally wearing No. 8 because of Bryant — said he will change to No. 5 (though he wore No. 7 vs. Golden State on Tuesday). Jahlil Okafor of the Pelicans is going from 8 to 9. Nuggets big man Mason Plumlee is going from 24 to 7.
Quinn Cook of the Lakers didn’t wear either 8 or 24, but is switching from 2 to 28 as a tribute — the 2 because that was the number Bryant’s daughter Gianna wore, and the 8 for Bryant.
All-Star guard Kemba Walker, who wears No. 8 for the Celtics, said he is considering a change, but has not decided yet. The Pacers’ Alize Johnson, meanwhile, said he intends to keep wearing No. 24 (which he chose because of Bryant), unless he is asked to surrender it, in which case, “I will without hesitation,” he wrote in a tweet.
Mudiay apparently considered other numbers he has worn during his playing career, but none were available with the Jazz. So he instead settled upon 15, which he said he wore during his childhood. (He was still wearing No. 8 on Wednesday night, though.) The No. 15 was last worn on the Jazz by Derrick Favors.
Oni, who is presently on assignment with the Stars, was not immediately available for comment on how he came to choose No. 81. It is worth noting, perhaps, that Bryant famously scored 81 points — the second-highest single-game total in NBA history — against the Toronto Raptors back on Jan. 22, 2006.