Tonight professional basketball player and semi-professional sexual-assaulter, Kobe Bryant, scored his 30,000th career point against the much maligned New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans, whose shoddy defense is giving up about 30,000 points a game to opposing teams anyway this season, but that’s another story. By reaching 30K+ career points, Kobe joins the ranks of basketball legends Wilt Chamberlin (31.4K), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38.3K), Karl Malone (36.9K), Michael Jordan (32.2K) as the only players in basketball history to accomplish such a feat. And at a practically prepubescent 34 years and 104 days old, Kobe is the youngest member to join the 10,000-Three-Pointers Club (although it took him the most games to get there), and will likely hold that title for a long time…assuming Grinnell’s Jack Taylor doesn’t average 138 points per game if he goes pro.
But what sets Kobe aside from his 30K compatriots (aside from having the highest sex-crimes-per-season ratio) is the tone with which people will reference Kobe’s achievement compared to the other names on the list. Bryant will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the most prolific scorers of his generation, but to me he will always be just that — a great scorer, not a great player. Don’t get me wrong, Kobe has a career highlight reel that will put 90% of the league to shame for decades to come (although simple math suggests that LeBron will beat him in both total career points and “wow moments” at a significantly younger age*), but when I look at the other people on that list, I see guys who gave their all to make their teams — and the league as a whole — the best they could possibly be, and were rewarded with the records as a byproduct. When I look at Kobe, I see a guy who just wants the acclaim for himself above all else. The proof? As Bryant soars, the Lakers are in shambles. With a 9-10 record (0-5 in the preseason) from a team whose personnel suggests they shouldn’t be losing games to any team except maybe The Monstars, their third head coach hiring/firing in two calendar years, and all the chemistry of a middle-schooler’s first dance; the excessive preseason talk of the Lakers being Finals favorites seems more like a bad SNL sketch than the legitimate speculation that it was at the time. Does that sound like the calling card of a basketball player who would have you believe he’s one of the greatest of all time? And I get it, everyone’s career starts to stagnate a little at the end — Wilt was already focused on scoring off the court as much as he had on the court, Kareem was learning lines for his short-lived career in the movies, The Mailman was mailing it in, and Jordan was ruining both baseball and the Washington Wizards for future generations. But none of them had Kobe’s gall to parade around on a would-be championship-contending team, blame everyone/anyone for his own subpar performance, and take credit for a championship that was barely won in game seven on the back of a dude so unpredictably crazy he changed his name to something that sounds like it should be an organic food store (btw, scoring extraordinaire Kobe shot an abysmal 6-24 that game).
So what’s the point of all this? Am I just trying to bash Kobe and undermine his accomplishment because I dislike him as a person and am jealous of his success, acclaim, and wealth? Yes. Yes I am. But beyond that, I want us to hold our legends to a higher standard. I want our heroes to take the responsibility that comes with greatness (you know, like Spiderman’s uncle always says). I don’t want “very good” to automatically equal “great.” I want more than points, wins, and rings to matter to the masses. Maybe that’s a lot to ask of someone only getting paid 23 million dollars a year…but maybe it’s not.
Until next time, or until I score 30,000 points, whichever comes first.
*LeBron is 27 years old, has 19,442 career points currently, and averages 27-ish points a game. If he’s in the league till he’s 35 and stays healthy, he will have amassed almost 18,000 more points if he plays at his current level (27 points a game x 82 games a season x 8 seasons = 17,712). That’s 37,154 career points, putting him over the 30,000 points mark sometime around his 31st birthday. It’s good to be the king. An obvious side note is that LeBron will clearly not continue to average an insane 27PPG for the rest of his career, and it’s equally unlikely he’ll stay significant-injury free all those years, but even if/when his PPG number declines, he’ll still be well on his way to hitting 30K years ahead of Kobe.