Kobe Bryant is ready to cap a busy week by moving past another great on the NBA’s career scoring list.
Bryant needs just nine points in the Los Angeles Lakers’ game at Minnesota on Sunday night to surpass Michael Jordan, who is third on the league’s career scoring charts with 32,292 points.
“It’s a huge honour to be here in this position,” Bryant said this week. “I can’t believe I’ve scored that many points, especially from where my career started, not playing and things like that. It’s a huge honour. It wasn’t something I thought about growing up as a kid. It was championships. The numbers aren’t something I’ve ever started out to accomplish.”
Yet Bryant is poised to add another big number to his five NBA championship rings when the Lakers visit the Timberwolves.
The 36-year-old Bryant likely would have surpassed Jordan a year ago, but he has made an impressive return from two major injuries which limited him to six games in an 18-month stretch before the start of this season. He even led the league in scoring until recently, dropping back to third with 25.4 points per game.
Bryant stays in regular contact with Jordan, the owner of the Charlotte Hornets, and has gained insight into the six-time NBA champion’s longevity.
“I think we’re both cursed with the obsession of trying to be the best that we can,” Bryant said. “It’s a blessing and a curse at the same time.”
Lakers coach Byron Scott was there at Madison Square Garden for Bryant’s first NBA point when they were teammates in 1996, and he looks forward to witnessing Kobe’s latest achievement.
“From my standpoint and knowing Kobe like I do, I know he has an extreme amount of respect for MJ,” Scott said. “He’s probably the one guy Kobe wants to pass in a number of categories, and I think rings are one of them as well. I think for him, it will be very significant. It puts him in that category of the greatest players ever in this league.”
Bryant scored 22 points in the Lakers’ overtime victory at San Antonio on Friday night, going 7 for 22 while contributing several big assists down the stretch. He even ceded the biggest shot of the game to teammate Nick Young, who drained a go-ahead 3-pointer with 7.4 seconds left.
Bryant is finishing up a week that has included two victories for the struggling Lakers, a headline-grabbing trash-talk performance in practice, and his orchestration of the Lakers’ decision to wear “I Can’t Breathe” shirts before their win over Sacramento on Tuesday. Bryant also spoke eloquently about the importance of questioning and protesting, citing his “platform to affect change” as an important aspect of American society.
Bryant rarely practices with the Lakers these days while attempting to preserve his 36-year-old body for the 82-game grind, but he joined in an intense scrimmage Thursday before the club left on its road trip.
While the media watched, Bryant was captured verbally shredding his teammates with trash talk that made national headlines, but isn’t anything out of the ordinary for the competitive guard.
Bryant laughed at the attention attracted by his words, saying they were just “fun bantering back and forth.”
Once Bryant passes Jordan, who played parts of 15 seasons, only Karl Malone (36,928) and former Lakers centre Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387) will be above him on the NBA’s career list.
Bryant is early in his 19th NBA season. He doesn’t know whether he’ll play after his current contract expires following next season, although Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak suspects Bryant will retire.
If surpassing Jordan’s career points total is Bryant’s final milestone on his rise, he’ll be grateful to sit alongside one of his heroes.
“It’s not like a distraction or anything,” Bryant said. “It’s not like it’s (not) going to happen. I just take it all in stride.”