Kobe Bryant has always made it clear what his goals are. He’s said many times that championship rings are his main driving force.
Kobe will probably downplay last night as just another game, but it’s hard to believe he really feels that way. Last night, Kobe passed his well documented nemesis Shaquille O’Neal for fifth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. He needed 24 points to pass him…a number he eclipsed in the first half. He finished with 28 points, putting him in the top five amongst Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
After one-upping Shaq in 2010 when he won his fifth NBA Championship, he now beats his rival on the all-time scoring list. Shaq — who gave Kobe respect when he won his fourth and fifth rings — praised his one-time sidekick once again after he passed him.
“I want to personally congratulate Kobe on being the greatest Laker ever,” O’Neal told ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith shortly after Bryant passed his mark. “His accomplishment is great and well deserved, and I’m really proud of him. He told me when he was 18 years old that he’d go down as the greatest Laker ever, and one of the greatest players of all time. And he wasn’t lying.”
Making the feat even more “special” is that he achieved the feat in his hometown of Philadelphia. Kobe and the ‘City of Brotherly Love’ have had a tumultuous relationship for the past decade. When the All-Star game was played in Philadelphia in 2002, he won the Finals MVP and was booed by the fans when accepting the award.
ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said before the game that although he didn’t need it, a nice ovation from his hometown fans even 10 years later would have meant something.
“He’s over it, he’s been over it for a long time, but there is no doubt that there is a level of affection that he would love to receive from the fans here because obviously this is going to always be home to him,” Smith said.
It didn’t happen. Kobe was loudly booed by the Philadelphia fans to start the game.
The animosity stems from the NBA Finals against the hometown 76ers. Kobe famously said of the 76ers that he wanted to “cut their hearts out.” It’s a statement Kobe doesn’t back down from even today.
“I think the older I get, the more I appreciate coming back here and playing…In terms of an apology, I’m not apologizing for saying I’m going to come kick some ass…I’m just not going to do it,” Bryant told reporters before Monday’s game against the Sixers. “But I certainly embrace the city and I love everything that it’s taught me. So, I’m deeply appreciative of it.”
Now that Kobe is in the top five in scoring, the next question is how far he can climb. He’s only 2,818 points behind fellow Philadelphian Chamberlain, but probably more important to him is now he only trails Jordan by 3,691.
At this point, it’s not even a discussion whether Jordan is the best player ever; in short, he is. Kobe has long been compared to Jordan — fairly or not — and Kobe wants to be known as the best NBA player to ever play.There have been others who have been compared to Jordan, like LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. None of those comparisons truly fit though. Jordan rarely gives anyone props, but even he has come out and said that Kobe is the only player that warrants a comparison.
Roland Lazenby, who’s writing a book about Jordan, tweeted last month:
“Kobe’s ultimate competition is MJ. That’s why MJ watches him. MJ made people think what he was doing wasn’t human. Ditto the Kobester. I never said Kobe was better than MJ. MJ just told me Kobe’s the only one to have done the work, to deserve comparison.”
If the rings, the All-Star appearances, the Finals MVPs, and the Gold Medal weren’t enough…getting respect from Jordan shows just what type of player Kobe has been his entire career. Passing Shaq is just another accolade to add to the many he already has.
“Were it not for his airness, he would likely be regarded as the best player of the modern era, arguably the best of all time. That he is measured constantly against the complete, nearly spotless, and unfathomably incredible resume of Michael Jordan only fuels the fire that is the public debate over Kobe Bryant.
If Kobe averages around 25 points per game for the next two seasons, he can surpass Chamberlain and Jordan’s scoring marks. At this stage of his career, Kobe has already played more games than both of them – his knees and conditioning will determine whether he cracks the top three.