Kobe Bryant entered Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves with 32, 284 career points. He needed eight more to tie Michael Jordan at third place in the NBA’s All-Time scoring list and nine to overtake the man he’s looked up to as an idol.

Rising Above Air

After getting fouled with 5:24 left in the second quarter, Kobe Bryant made the most important pair of free throws in his legendary career. Sure, Bryant had taken 8,100 regular season and 1,617 playoff free throws before December 142 2014. And sure, he’s won ball games and sealed victories with clutch free throws in the past 19 NBA seasons. But those two free throws on Sunday night were worth more than all the free throws he’s made combined. For if the ones before them established his legacy, those two have sealed it.

Bryant has spent all his career being compared to the ball player regarded by most as the greatest ever. Now, by passing him on the NBA’s career scoring list, Kobe Bryant has moved out of Michael Jordan’s shadow and has risen above Air. Only Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Karl Malone have scored more points in the history of the NBA. And while Kobe may no longer beat those two on the top of the podium, Bryant has taken the big gorilla off his back.

Chasing Flight 23

Zen Master Phil Jackson, the embattled President of the New York Knicks who coached both Jordan and Bryant in his fabled career once said in his book “ Eleven Rings” that Kobe is “hell-bent on surpassing Jordan as the greatest player in the game.”

When this season started with Kobe leading the league in scoring and the Lakers were losing ( they still have a losing record now), his critics echoed Jackson’s claims and said that Kobe was more obsessed about catching Flight 23’s record rather than winning. But Bryant has played through this criticism as he had with the many stones cast against him throughout his career. But he’s a winner, and that’s what his detractors can’t take away from him.

Who’s Gonna Beat Kobe?

To appreciate how impressive Kobe’s record is, let us compare him with the other great scorers in the NBA today:

  • After Sunday’s game, Kobe now has a total of 32,310 career points after he scored 26 during their 100-94 win over the Wolves.
Name of Player Total Career Points Scored To Pass Kobe’s Record Career PPG Avergae Games to Pass Kobe
LeBron James 23,703  8,607 27.5   313
Kevin Durant 14,997 17,313 27.3   635
Carmelo Anthony 20,494 11,816 25.2    469
Stephen Curry    7,359 24,951 20.5 1,218
James Harden    7,274 25,036 18.5 1,354

 

Using their respective career scoring averages, here’s the estimated period when they’ll match Kobe’s 32,310 points:

  • LeBron James during the fourth season after 2015 when he will be 34.
  • Kevin Durant during the eighth season after 2015 when he will be 34.
  • Carmelo Anthony during the fifth season after 2015 when he will be 35.
  • Stephen Curry during 15th season after 2015 when he will be 41.
  • James Harden during the 16th season after 2015 when he will be 41

James, Durant and Anthony have a shot at equalling Kobe’s 32,310 points at a younger age.  But that is assuming that they will play all 82 regular season games for the next five to eight seasons. With the series of injuries that we’ve seen this season, playing all 82 regular season games for at least the next five seasons may be impossible. It’s got to be a perfect run for those three.

And yes, 36 year old Kobe Bryant is still playing very competitively right now. He ain’t hanging around for some farewell tour. In fact, he’s still #2 in the NBA in scoring so he’ll  continue to create more separation from those three men as he continues to score from tomorrow until the day he retires.  Now that’s a living legend right there, love him or hate him. That longevity makes it more impressive, don’t you think?