While he will deny it when asked about it, Kobe Bryant knows when he passes a rival or legend on an important list.
So when Kobe Shaquille O’Neal on the NBA’s all-time playoff scoring list (likely during Game 5 of the Lakers/Hornets series), he will be smirking inside and thinking of lines about how his backside tastes.
But Kobe has bigger fish on the menu. As our man Mark Medina pointed out at the Los Angeles Times, Kobe will become the NBA’s all-time leading playoff scorer.
His 5,203 career playoff points mean he’s only 46 points shy of surpassing Shaquille O’Neal’s third-place mark (5,248), a record that likely will be broken before the Lakers-Hornets series ends. Bryant also trails (Kareem) Abdul-Jabbar (5,762) and (Michael) Jordan (5,987). I find the following scenario highly unlikely, but should the Lakers sweep their way through the 2011 NBA Finals and were Bryant to maintain his current 35.33-points-a-game average, he will have finished with 494 playoff points this season, increasing his total to 5,697. Should the Lakers go through seven games in every playoff series this season while Bryant maintains his 35.33 average, he would finish with 875 points this season, increasing his total to 6,078.
Those satisfy the short and long scenarios but don’t include the possibility that Bryant may have games where he facilitates and other games where he has 40-plus points — or series that last five or six games. But the numbers make it clear that it’s likely Bryant will surpass both Shaq and Abdul-Jabbar on the scoring list this postseason. It’s unlikely he’ll eclipse Jordan; I’m still uncertain they could beat Oklahoma City in a Western Conference Finals matchup, but Bryant will surely take the throne over Jordan in next year’s playoffs. It’s not the main motivation for Bryant right now, but it’s a carrot he’s certainly aware he could pursue.
Say what you will about Kobe (and some of you will, to be sure). But the man has had a long career playing at a high level and he steps up in big games. And in the playoffs they are almost all big games — where he has 80 30-point games in his career.
He’s going to get this record. Probably next playoffs, but he will get it. And when he does he will say all the right things about just being honored to be on the list with these amazing players, he will praise his teammates and say the rings are all that really matters.
But inside, you know what he’ll be thinking.