Julius Erving says NBA shouldn’t retire Kobe Bryant’s numbers: ‘I wouldn’t even try to compare Kobe Bryant to Bill Russell’

Brad Sullivan
4 Min Read

The prospect of the NBA retiring the numbers of Los Angeles Lakers icon Kobe Bryant doesn’t sit well with Hall of Famer Julius Erving.

TMZ Sports asked Erving about the league’s recent decision to retire the number of Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell, and he was also asked about the idea of the league retiring Bryant’s number.

“I don’t think he should be compared with the Russell situation,” Erving said of Bryant. “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 champion, multiple coaching champion, multiple on-and-off the court champion, or whatever — there’s no comparison.

“I wouldn’t even try to compare Kobe Bryant to Bill Russell.”

When asked whether the idea of retiring Bryant’s number across the league should be revisited at some point, Erving indicated that it makes more sense for it to be left as a “franchise situation with the Lakers.”

“It’s more of a franchise situation with the Lakers,” Erving said. “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.”

The league’s announcement of retiring Russell’s number was made several days after the Celtics legend’s death, which came on July 31.

An honor of that stature in the world of sports is a rarity, with Jackie Robinson being the first to receive that honor in Major League Baseball. The National Hockey League also decided many years ago to retire the number of Wayne Gretzky.

Russell’s basketball legacy is a historic one, given the fact that during his 13 NBA seasons, he was part of 11 championship teams. As Lakers fans are painfully aware, many of those Celtics titles came against their team.

Russell also made a massive impact off the court as a civil rights leader.

Bryant established himself as one of the NBA’s all-time greats during a 20-year career. He played all of those seasons with the Lakers, leading them to five NBA titles.

After Bryant’s 2016 retirement from the NBA, he began making a mark off the court. That success tragically came to an end in January of 2020, when he was killed in a helicopter crash.

In the wake of the sad news of Bryant’s death, the NBA, teams and players offered a variety of tributes, including one from Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers, who honored Bryant’s No. 24.

Erving comes to such a discussion from a unique perspective. Growing up, he undoubtedly watched Russell perform on the court during televised contests and then played with Bryant’s father as a member of the 76ers.

The NBA’s thinking on retiring numbers of players such as Bryant, Chicago Bulls icon Michael Jordan and current Lakers star LeBron James doesn’t seem likely to change in the near future. For now, Russell stands alone with the rare honor.

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Brad is a freelance writer for LakersDaily.com, who can clearly recall watching Lakers games in 1972 as they captured the first of their 11 Los Angeles-based titles. The franchise's evolution into a beloved and iconic franchise among its fan base since that memorable year allows for a wider perspective to be a part of his writing about the team's current fortunes.