When Joc Pederson signed with the Cubs this offseason, one of the changes he faced in joining a new organization was finding a new jersey number.
Pederson, who debuted with the Dodgers in 2014, wore No. 31 the past six seasons with Los Angeles. Of course, that number is retired on the North Side for Hall of Fame pitchers Fergie Jenkins and Greg Maddux.
For the 28-year-old, the choice was clear: he would wear No. 24 with the Cubs, paying tribute to the late Kobe Bryant, a Los Angeles Lakers legend.
"Because of Kobe, it was a no brainer for me to wear 24," Pederson told reporters Wednesday in Mesa.
Pederson said he was in Los Angeles the day Bryant tragically died in January 2020, describing the somber feeling permeating the city: "It was straight to the gut. It was bad," he said.
The 28-year-old Pederson grew up in Palo Alto, Calif, which is less than 50 miles south from San Francisco, and is a Warriors fan. However, he got to know Bryant during his tenure with the Dodgers and was touched by Bryant's competitive spirit.
"Talking to him about how he viewed basketball and the details that went into practice and film, it was pretty eye-opening," Pederson said. "Even competing in practice and his demeanor towards that, I understand why he was as good as he was and maximized his ability."
As Pederson added during Wednesday's broadcast of the Cubs-Mariners game: "I've got to rep for Kobe. RIP. Mamba Mentality."