For the fourth leading scorer in NBA history, age is rising in a whirlwind. The 16-time All-Star, Kobe Bryant, turned 36 years old on Saturday.
Never did Bryant believe he’d find himself playing in just six games between two birthdays. It’s never happened throughout his professional, or high school career. He’s been consumed with the game of basketball since age six, moving to Rieti, Italy to learn from his father.
Joe “Jellybean” Bryant raised his only son in a basketball culture, aiding him with the proper experience a child should have. For one that’s always been destined to follow in his father’s footsteps, it became indispensable.
It’s hard to imagine it was 30 years ago that Joe Bryant departed from the NBA, walking Kobe into a whole new world of language, education, and basketball talents. Kobe would turn into a trilingual kid, having English, Italian, and Spanish in his back pocket. When his father learned how much Bryant was focusing on games and breaking things down at such an absurd age, he would bring the lad to practice with him.
As Kobe grew from an elementary standout to a teenage sensation, even the professional teammates of Joe would notice his refinement. His jumpshot grew with consistency and range, and the hours logged on Italian playgrounds confused everyone. Why was this kid so concentrated on basketball? What was wrong with him, enjoying the Showtime Lakers on television instead of fully investing his fanhood in A.C. Milan?
As a toddler, teen, and high school entry, Bryant was already practicing the work ethic. He relished the early rehearsal of greatness. There’s a special breed of individuals that will say it directly hits them — they sense exactly what they want to do as a career at a young age.
From there, it changes from the phase of “realization,” to the step of “implementing.” The necessary strides have to be made to ensure you live your dream. If you ask him today, Kobe would label this as “execution.”
For Bryant, no dream was larger than the NBA. No fantasy ever out-shined the possible matchup with No. 23, with Bryant staring through Michael Jordan‘s eyes after scoring on his icon.
Jordan not only stayed durable enough to be in the league during Bryant’s NBA premier, but he also indirectly inspired the youngster from Lower Merion High School. Kobe’s idol led the Chicago Bulls to a second 3-peat from 1996-98, which turned into Bryant’s adjustment years. Kobe was less than 20 years old during Jordan’s last string of titles, and witnessing the “old man” win every season gave Bryant all the assurance he needed.
This was going to be long, enduring journey for the newest Laker. If his body allowed it, there was a whole career ahead of him to win championships. Behind all of it, however, Jordan’s final run was another indication to Bryant. It let him get a taste of how delightful it feels to succeed when many have counted you out, or the competition gets “too hard” for you to overcome.
It’s the same dilemma Bryant battles with now, 16 years after watching Jordan claim his last trophy. The prestigious sixth championship is the last thing he wants on his resume, but he has to fight off a few things to even make it possible.
Weary legs, incapable teammates, unreliable management, and a mountain of naysayers. When you consider the growing number of doubters is mirroring a zombie apocalypse, it becomes more than just an obstacle for Bryant to overcome. Imagine Forrest Gump’s probability of getting into a college based off his intelligence, not his football speed. That’s how far the odds currently appear in Kobe’s favor. Critics don’t want him to make the resurgence and win deep into the playoffs. Why would they? Counting him out and telling the narrative that he’s not a team player is much easier that way.
Whether or not Kobe can match his mentor and place a ring on his opposite hand is something up in the air. As the Western Conference sits, it almost feels that you’d have to be mentally sick to see the Lakers — not just their superstar — survive. Bryant could revert to his 2012 self and be spectacular, and still face the burden of not having Phil Jackson‘s zen or a frontcourt that can be trusted in the middle.
Up in the air is not what defines his other goal, perhaps the one that means more to his overbearing ego.
Only three historical greats stand in front of him on the All-Time scoring list; Jordan (32,292), Karl Malone (36,928), and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387). One of those is well within reach this season, as Jordan only rests 592 points ahead of Bryant.
By the end of November, Bryant will have enough evidence to know if he guide the team to the playoffs, or if they’re even worthy of winning over 35 games. If the answer is no, an all-out scoring spree is taking place.
Breaking Jordan’s mark on the scoring list would mean everything, despite how humble Bryant wants to act about the matter. He entered the league telling Jordan face-to-face “You know I could kick your a** one-on-one,” for crying out loud. He’s lived for the moment to exceed Jordan in either championships, or the facet they both did better than anyone: Scoring in their sleep.
If Kobe hasn’t been feeding us lies about his conditioning this offseason, 593 points are coming at a breeze, especially before 2015 is here.
Scoring 24.0 points per game — a fair, respectable number for his age — Bryant would be slated to move ahead of Jordan during the Lakers’ 25th game of the season. In Indianapolis on Dec. 15, it would be an historical moment for Bryant, and the NBA as a whole.
In order for Kobe to move into third in the town Jordan ruled (Chicago), he would have to take a larger dip to 21 points per game. Los Angeles heads to Chicago on Christmas Day, which would be the 29th game on the Lakers’ schedule. It’s incredibly close, and it’s all dependent on how much Byron Scott watches Bryant’s minutes, and how long it takes to feel comfortable with all the variations of the Princeton offense.
The realistic shot of reaching second on the All-Time list has been thrown out the window, however. At the same scoring rate of 24 points a night, Bryant would need 218 games to surpass Malone for sole-possession of second at 36,929 points. Playing 82 games, which also isn’t realistic, it comes out to 2.6 more seasons of scoring at a high rate. Kobe inked his two-year deal with the understanding that he would want to hang it up after it expires, saying it’s likely his final contract.
Maybe third is fine for Bryant. Don’t slight it … it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Then again, maybe he staggers us all. Perhaps he feels more in the tank and returns, in pursuit of the scoring race. Perhaps the Lakers figure things out as an organization and bring valued free agents along to compete for a title?
I stopped counting out these scenarios on July 11 of this summer. Miracles do happen in the NBA, and Cleveland can give you a million testimonies.
Nonetheless, the one thing Jordan will always have to smile over is the difference in time it took both phenoms.
Jordan finished his 15-year career at the 1,072 game mark. Bryant has far eclipsed the amount of minutes and games on the court, having 1,245 games under his belt. That’s a 173 game difference, which is roughly 2.1 seasons.
Regardless if it took Bryant two more seasons of play to catch Jordan in the illustrious race, nobody should ever demean the achievement, when it happens. There are always exceptions to everything.
Bryant entered the league vastly younger than Jordan did, due to Michael’s North Carolina years. Bryant couldn’t even sign his own contract for the Lakers without parental acceptance because he wasn’t 18 years old.
His first three years as a Laker were still used as times for adjustment, learning how to operate different offenses and climbing the ranks. Remember, there were veterans on the 1996-97 Lakers that weren’t stepping out of the way for a kid that hadn’t earned his place yet. Had Bryant came into the league on a team that needed him right away (LeBron and the Cavaliers), we’re talking about a different discussion. It’s all about opportunities, and how your path begins.
Isn’t it a known fact in this world, that everything has a starting point?
That idea goes for any career, education, or process you ever encounter.
January 22nd, 2006 … I recall sitting in my middle school cafeteria, new to the 6th grade. Glancing up to the television screen — yes, we were cool enough to have those at lunch — I noticed all the uproar people were losing their minds over.
Kobe had drenched the Raptors for 81 points the previous day, and it was the second coming of Wilt Chamberlain where I come from.
Sure, I knew about the NBA, watched it on a yearly basis, and obviously knew who wore No. 8 for the Lakers. What I wasn’t, however, was a die-hard fanatic, invested in the daily activity the NBA had to offer. Basketball wasn’t my first priority, playing it or watching it.
Going home that afternoon changed my entire outlook on the game, and what I cared about in the future.
I found myself watching countless hours of Bryant, adopting a fandom I never had for anything else. Was never a cartoon person, never watched anything on television that I became 100 percent attached to.
Bryant changed it all during the rampage of the 2005-06 season, and anyone that admired the sport should’ve been hooked — I was, instantly.
From there, it was all about the communication with my peers; chatting about the NBA, making uneducated projections before the season, stat-tracking each night and telling your friends about news the next day.
Kobe got me invested in the NBA — not just when the Lakers played, but all 30 franchises. Without the beginning attachment and drawing in, I ponder every day if I would’ve even began my writing career, and had the same aspirations.
I come to the conclusion that it wouldn’t have transpired the same way. No other player was explosive or tenacious enough to bring out the love for the game in me. I didn’t even know how addictive a ball and a hoop could be … even through a television set.
Then, you just notice (and study) tendencies, and attitudes of hard work.
Bryant’s attitude of nobody ever working more intensively than him quickly got ingrained in my mind, to the point where I would practice it in my own context.
Kobe always reveals that if you are truly determined to find yourself with a successful future, you can’t always concur with what your friends are doing. He remembers many moments of seeing his close friends head out for a fun weekend of messing around, only to keep himself in the gym, training all hours of the night.
It may not be the same, but that identical passion has been there with my writing. In no way, shape, or form have I ever let outside distractions interfere with how far I reach.
The finish line is what you should aim for in any field, without letting the speed bumps and pit-stops prevent you from getting there. Bryant has been able to teach every young athlete — or teenager in general — that same message.
Father Time is indeed undefeated. It doesn’t appear as if anyone is knocking him off.
It only takes one demented, devoted animal to end a streak, however. If there’s an animal that’s doing it, it’s a snake.
It’s the Black Mamba.