Wednesday night in New Orleans, before the Lakers game becomes about hack-a-Dwight, Kobe Bryant will reach a milestone:
With 13 more points, Kobe will become the youngest player in NBA history to 30,000 points. Wilt Chamberlain was 35 years old and 179 days, 10 days faster than Karl Malone did it. Kobe is 34.
Kobe’s detractors can and will diminish this — Michael Jordan did it in 7,000 fewer minutes, if you’re looking for a line of attack — but the accomplishment is still of note. There are just four players who have ever reached this milestone (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Malone, Jordan and Chamberlain). If you add in his ABA years, “Dr. J” Julius Erving makes the list, too. That is top shelf company.
It helped that Kobe started in the NBA at age 18 and has played significant minutes his entire career. But Kobe has shaped his legacy with his work ethic, his drive and his dedication to craft and conditioning. That drive has been both his greatest strength and weakness at different times. That is what makes Kobe so fascinating. But it is what defines him.
Kobe’s ultimate legacy will be interesting to see unfold because Bryant spent his career in the shadow of Jordan — Kobe never got the chance to just be Kobe. Jordan’s shadow used to really bother Kobe, and still does to a degree (why do you think he wants the sixth ring so badly?), but he has carved out his own place.
He will go down as one of the games great legends, one of the games great competitors. One of the greatest scorers ever. A guy who is fearless to a fault. And nobody can deny him that.