Kobe Bryant continues to make his mark in NBA history and is proving to be a generational, once-in-an-epoch-type player.
On Monday night against Philadelphia, Bryant passed his former teammate Shaquille O’Neal to become the fifth-leading scorer in NBA history and he’s not done yet. Next up on the list is another former Laker, Wilt Chamberlain. As a player that was never viewed as the first choice to carry torch when Michael Jordan hung up his sneakers, Bryant has worked at his game and combined his talent with an incredible competitive drive to develop into an alltime great.
There were a number of players, including Grant Hill and Vince Carter, who basketball fans were expecting to pick up where Jordan left off when he walked away from the game. But because of the time and place he was at in his career, Bryant was never looked at in that light. Yes, Bryant was in Los Angeles, but he wasn’t even considered the best player on his team.
In reality, the hoops world should have seen this coming. Bryant is driven to be the best he can possibly be. Rumour has it that Kobe would spend his spare time at home studying video of Jordan. He was even bold enough when he was lined up to rebound a free throw beside Jordan during a game to ask Jordan for his advice on honing his craft. Is it just me or does Kobe sometimes display the same loping gait when walking up court that his Airness once did in his playing days?
There have been many great players in the NBA as the game has evolved, one that is now owned by faster, stronger and more athletic players. But the one quality that Bryant possesses to accompany his great skill and age-improving guile is a tremendous competitive fire. Nobody in the game has Bryant’s combination of skill and will to win. Even at his advanced age, Kobe is still ready to take on all comers. Bryant has more championships than any active player, with the exception of teammate Derek Fisher and is tied for 14th on the all-time list of championships won with five, and the meter is still running.
The ultimate compliment for Bryant may have come from a guy who can relate to him. Indiana Pacers president, former NBA champion and Celtic great Larry Bird said if he had to pick a current day player as a teammate, it would be Bryant. Bird gave a ringing endorsement to Bryant when he cited Kobe’s desire to win and his toughness as defining factors.
Toronto fans will get their chance to see Bryant when the Lakers roll into town on Sunday, and they had better get a good look. Not that Bryant is planning on going anywhere, but you wonder how long he can continue to play at his current level.
Witnessing history is something you rarely get to do. I am old enough to have experienced landmark moments in world and sports history and all hoops lovers of this generation, myself included, will be able to tell those that are younger of Bryant’s exploits. I saw and called one of them in person on Jan. 22, 2006, when Bryant hung up 81 points against the Toronto Raptors in Los Angeles, and I have the box score with my name on the game notes from Staples Center that evening squirreled away to prove it.
Get a good look now because they don’t come along that often. In these eyes, Bryant is one for the ages.
And speaking of moving up on all-time scoring lists how about Paul Pierce’s accomplishments in Boston? The Truth became Boston’s second all-time leading scorer in Tuesday’s win over the Charlotte Hornets (insert punch line here). Pierce moved passed Bird and now trails only John Havlicek.
No, he’s not Bryant, but Pierce has entrenched himself as one of the great Celtics of all time. Following the game there was plenty of chatter about Pierce’s milestone. The only question remains is whether he will end his career in Boston.
Maybe it’s fitting to talk about stuff from different eras since it is February and the time of year when we celebrate Black History Month. Basketball is primarily viewed as an African-American sport but it wasn’t always that way. The tentacles of segregation in American society ran deep and even hit the NBA.
Earl Lloyd was the first African-American to play in the NBA and you can learn a bit about him here, and if you would like to read more you should take a look at this piece. Lloyd is recognized as the Jackie Robinson of the NBA and breaking the colour barrier cleared the way for many who followed.