Kobe Bryant has scored more points through his age-36 season than anyone else in NBA history, and he still has more than two-thirds of the year remaining.
He’s not limping to the finish, either. He’s nearly averaging the most points per game in a season for anyone so old.
And, most importantly, he’s healthy.
Kobe, who just passed Michael Jordan for third on the all-time scoring list, has a real chance to overtake Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most points in NBA history.
Here’s how the career scoring arcs of all four players compares:
Kobe had a nice start, entering the league as a teenager and racking up points while learning on the job. He held his lead on everyone who’d come before him through his age 26 season, and then he started scoring at a Michael Jordan pace to keep up. At the age Jordan left to play baseball, Kobe took a big lead.
Meanwhile, neither Abdul-Jabbar nor Malone topped Kobe’s pace through his age. But both kept steadily producing late in their careers, especially Abdul-Jabbar, whose post-40 scoring was remarkable.
Here are scoring leaders after age 40:
Only Robert Parish, who played 116 more games than Abdul-Jabbar after 40, comes close. Abdul-Jabbar himself has more than a quarter of all points by players in their 40s.
Abdul-Jabbar really took the all-time scoring title with his late work, and that’s why passing him so difficult. Plenty of players have scored as or more proficiently than him early in the career, but nobody can match him late.
Here’s how many points per game Kobe would have to average from here – if he plays every contest – to match Abdul-Jabbar’s career record based on number of seasons he plays after this one:
- One: 43.4
- Two: 27.4
- Three: 20.0
- Four: 15.7
- Five: 13.0
Scoring 20.0 points per game between the rest of this season, in which he’s averaging 25.4, and three more afterward seems to be the sweet spot.
But Kobe’s contract expires after next season, and he said he can’t see himself playing beyond this deal. He also said he COULD physically play beyond next season, so who knows? His general manager thinks Kobe will retire in 2016, but his coach thinks Kobe might keep going. Kobe himself has taken a firm middle ground.
This is where it gets hard. Abdul-Jabbar showed an incredible desire to keep competing, and he had the good fortune to remain healthy. It’s a combination few can match.
Will Kobe pass Abdul-Jabbar? Probably not, but he’s given himself a fighting chance, which is pretty incredible.