Kareem Abdul-Jabbar didn’t do it. Neither did Karl Malone or Moses Malone. Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West were never even in position to do it.
So it’s worth pausing to reflect on the 48 points Kobe Bryant scored Tuesday night in the Lakers’ 99-83 victory over the Phoenix Suns.
Bryant got his points on 18-of-31 shooting from the floor and 12-of-13 accuracy from the line in 39 minutes. They came despite the torn ligament in his shooting wrist and were his biggest output since he got 49 against the Suns back in March 2009.
But what made them historic was that they came in his 16th NBA season – the most points in a game scored by someone who has played that long, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Feeling old yet?
Bryant claims he is not, even though he already has stuck around longer (in seasons) than Jordan, Robertson and many others. “You have to figure out a way to get it done,” he said. “There’s no time to make excuses. If I play bad or have one bad game like I did in Denver, everybody cries for a change or cries for the fact I’m too old. … I made adjustments and go from there.”
Set jaw or not, there are chinks in Bryant’s armor. Some of his cat-quickness and lithium-lift are subdued now, and he’s not as resilient as he once was. For example, the Lakers’ shooting guard is hitting at 38.1 percent and 25 percent on 3-pointers when he played the night before vs. 42.8 percent and 39.7 percent after rest.
But the adjustments he has made – veteran shortcuts – have been apparent, too. That’s what ESPN.com’s J.A. Adande heard from Bryant bud Derek Fisher:
“He’s always going to be aggressive and assertive to score, but he’s picking his spots and he’s doing it in a very efficient manner. That ranks it right up there with the best of them because it doesn’t look like he’s trying to do it. He’s just doing it within the flow of the game. That’s been very effective for him and us.”
Adande noted that 14 of Bryant’s 18 field goals came from below the foul line (he was 0-for-3 from the arc). And it only makes sense for him to adapt, since he’s playing at a level rarely known by oldsters.
OK, so Bryant had a head start. He’s already in his 16th year because he arrived fresh from high school, so he’s playing all season at 33. Abdul-Jabbar was 38 when he scored 46 at Houston in 1985-86, his 17th season. Shaq was 36 in year No. 17 when he scored 45 for Phoenix against Toronto on Feb. 27, 2009 during the 2008-09 season.
But playing and scoring the way those big guys did was far less taxing than working in the open court, off the dribble, without any inherent size advantage. It’s the reason Bryant has achieved what he has and the reason he’s crowding into discussions of the NBA’s top five of all-time.