Sure. Why not? As long as he happens to be in the neighborhood. Kobe Bryant, 13 points away, will likely reach the milestone tonight in New Orleans … and keep going in the search for something more. Two wins in a row for the Lakers, for one thing.
Michael Jordan, for another.
Let’s be real. Bryant will say all the right things when he joins Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain on the 30K plateau, the exact level of appreciation depending on whether the Lakers win. But the whole 30,000-point thing is just fun with numbers. Retiring at 29,000 or 31,000 would not change the Bryant legacy by a fraction, and he knows it.
Retiring ahead of Jordan … that gets into legacy-changing. Jordan has been the focus point on Bryant’s horizon from the beginning, the only player to measure himself against. Jerry West is The Logo and a Laker icon who became one of the few able to reach young Kobe, Malone was briefly a contemporary and teammate who went all the way to No. 2 on the career scoring list. But Bryant throughout his life would measure himself only against Jordan.
Plus, Jordan is the only other guard in single digits of the scoring leaders, until Oscar Robertson at No. 10. They are surrounded by centers and power forwards. Jordan, then, would be the showdown.
That is the case with championships more than anything – current score: Jordan 6, Bryant 5, with time winding down on the clock – but it’s a good bet that passing MJ will mean more to Bryant than busting through 30,000. Not because it’s for third place and the medal stand on the all-time list, two spots better than his current standing. Because it’s Jordan.
At the moment:
- Abdul-Jabbar, 38,387 points.
- Malone, 36,928.
- Jordan, 32,292.
- Chamberlain, 31,419.
- Bryant, 29,987.
(The rest of the top 10: Shaquille O’Neal, Moses Malone, Elvin Hayes, Hakeem Olajuwon, Robertson.)
Bryant is 1,432 points behind Chamberlain and 2,305 away from catching Jordan, putting both within range, barring major injury. Malone, 6,941 in the distance, is a much harder sell.
At something close to the current rate of 28.5 points a game, Bryant will get to fourth place late in the season, depending on the number of contests missed to injury, and to third around this time in 2013-14, again depending on good health. And the current rate could hold. The Lakers will be playing faster under Mike D’Antoni than with Mike Brown as coach, and the some-day return of Steve Nash will make L.A. more efficient, even if Nash will also take some of the baskets. The increased pace and scoring opportunities could be enough to offset any reduction in minutes Bryant may have with D’Antoni.
Even dialing the numbers down, getting past Wilt and Jordan is still within sight. Put Bryant at 24 points a night and he gets to No. 4 in 60 games and to No. 3 in 96 games.
He can still get to Jordan, which is a lot more important than getting to 30,000. Let’s be real.