Raw pro basketball statistics, for good reason, aren’t held in the same regard as the numbers many grew up memorizing as baseball fans. NBA fans have a good idea as to how many points Kareem Abdul-Jabbar scored (30,000 … something), how many rebounds Wilt Chamberlain pulled in (a lot), or the number of assists John Stockton dished (plenty?), but the actual totals involved aren’t as memorable as any of the record numbers Henry Aaron, Lou Gehrig or Lou Brock once set.
That doesn’t take away from the accomplishment that Kobe Bryant just earned. On Sunday night the Los Angeles Lakers superstar hit two free throws at the 5:24 mark of the contest to put him at 32,293 points (and counting) for his career, passing Michael Jordan to move into third place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. The Minnesota Timberwolves swingman that fouled him, rookie Zach LaVine, was born 13 months before Bryant announced he would forego college to jump directly to the NBA.
Kobe was then presented with the game ball by Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor before resuming action. He is currently averaging 25.4 points per game this season, second in the NBA just a tick under his career average of 25.5. Jordan still holds the NBA record with a 30.1 points per game career average.
Jordan released a statement to the Associated Press about Bryant passing him:
''I congratulate Kobe on reaching this milestone,'' Jordan said. ''He's obviously a great player, with a strong work ethic and has an equally strong passion for the game of basketball. I've enjoyed watching his game evolve over the years, and I look forward to seeing what he accomplishes next.''
Bryant is still some 4,000 points behind Karl Malone for second on the all-time list and 6,000 behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the league’s all-time mark of 38,387, but this doesn’t diminish Bryant’s brilliance. Malone and especially Kareem played in different eras with speedier paces and more possessions per game to score with. Kobe may have played with the benefit of the 3-point line, but he’s a below-average 3-point shooter on his career, so the advantage isn’t all that distinct. More impressively, as a guard Bryant had to slash and shoot his way to his points, while the bigger Malone and Abdul-Jabbar were allowed to play closer to the basket.
Kobe’s advancement is a rare bright spot in an otherwise turgid Lakers 2014-15 campaign. The team’s win over the defending champion San Antonio Spurs on Friday was a season highlight, with Bryant falling short in his attempt to pass Jordan but contributing down the stretch of a close win with several assists. That contest came one day after Bryant was caught by cameras berating both his lacking teammates and Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, a tongue-lashing with such a blithe response that suggested his teammates weren’t unfamiliar with those sorts of outbursts.
The Lakers were 7-16 upon entering Sunday night’s action, statistically on pace for just 25 wins in a Western Conference that features a seventh seed on pace to win 56 games. The team has been accused of attempting to tank the season in attempts to secure a high draft pick – if Los Angeles falls out of the top five following the NBA’s draft lottery, it surrenders its pick to Phoenix in the wake of the disastrous Steve Nash sign-and-trade. A tanking maneuver, as applauded by at least one Lakers legend, would waste what could be the penultimate season of Kobe Bryant’s career, as his two-year and $48.5 million contract runs out in 2016.
None of this mattered over the course of this long weekend, of course. Kobe Bryant, in the NBA since 1996 and already a legend, just brushed past his idol.
And he’s not done yet.
- - - - - - -