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Kobe Bryant's Legacy: 'Greatest Ever' In Reach But Not Yet Attained

Benjamin Gottlieb |
January 24, 2011 | 3:47 a.m. PST

Senior News Editor

Kobe Bryant shooting over Orlando's Dwight Howard in the 2009 NBA Finals (Creative Commons).
Kobe Bryant shooting over Orlando's Dwight Howard in the 2009 NBA Finals (Creative Commons).

Kobe Bryant has been called many things over the course of his career.

He’s been labeled “the best in the game today,” “the best closer” and even a sexual predator. But will we one day be able to call Bryant the best scorer ever?

As Bryant’s illustrious NBA career begins its descent, the question of how he will be remembered in the lore of the league continues to be debated.

If we are to measure his greatness against the legacies of the 303 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductees, Bryant’s 15-year career still lacks the credentials to be considered the best ever.  

His recipe for basketball’s coveted and unspoken title of “the greatest of all-time” requires a quartet of milestones: the most total points, the most playoff points, one more championship than Michael Jordan (placing him at seven) and winning an NBA title without Phil Jackson.

Achieving those four accomplishments will, in my eyes, place Bryant in a category of his own above the rest.

By holding the all-time points title, he will engrave his scoring capacity in basketball’s collective memory. Realizing the same mark in the playoffs will prove that he could not only score, but score under pressure. And winning one more ring than Jordan will negate the argument that Bryant’s career, which will soon pass Jordan’s in longevity, can never top “His Airness.”

So how does he get there?

Bryant is already ninth on the all-time scoring list, with 26,913 points.

In comparison to the league’s best, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar -- who holds the league record for most points in his career at 38,387 -- had 29,810 points after 15 seasons in the NBA. It took Abdul-Jabbar 20 seasons to reach his record number of points.

Crunching the numbers, Bryant needs 11,475 more points to surpass Abdul-Jabbar’s record.

If we assume Bryant maintains his current scoring average of 25.0 points per game, it would take him roughly 459 more games – just under six more seasons – to become the league’s all-time best scorer. That’s just six more seasons for the “Black Mamba” to go down as the league’s best scorer.

Seeing as he's 32 years old and getting increasingly vain, I have no problem saying Bryant will play at least another six seasons.

For the playoff mark, MJ holds the current record at 5,987 total playoff points. Bryant is 935 points behind Jordan in this category, and fourth all-time behind Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal, with 5,052.

To match Jordan, Bryant would have to play roughly 37 more games scoring at his career playoff average of 25.5 points per game. Assuming he will play at least 16 games in the playoffs this season by way of the Lakers making the Finals for the fourth straight year, this record is definitely within reach.

Owning one more ring than Jordan will undoubtedly be the toughest task for Bryant. Not only would the Lakers have to win the title this year, becoming just the sixth team ever to 3-peat, he would likely have to win his seventh without the help of his mentor.

For Bryant’s final challenge, he will have to do something Jordan never could: win it all without Jackson. 

Other NBA records, however, will never be broken.

No player will match Bill Russell’s 11 titles with the Boston Celtics in the 60s. I think its safe to say that Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point performance for the Philadelphia Warriors in 1962 against the New York Knicks is a record fashioned in such a way that it is untouchable.

Then again, Kobe came pretty close.

Kobe's 81-point performance just five years ago marked the second-highest scoring performance in NBA history. And given the nature of the NBA today and the increased collective athleticism exhibited by its players, Bryant’s performance against the Toronto Raptors may be just that much more spectacular.

In order to prove he's the greatest of all-time, though, he is going to have to play at least six more seasons at a high level, break Kareem's scoring record, win two more championships, break Jordan's playoff scoring record and win a ring without Phil.

That’s my recipe for Kobe's basketball immortality.

What's yours?

Weigh in in the comments section below.




To reach BGLakers Columnist Benjamin Gottlieb, click here.

Follow him on Twitter @benjamin_max.


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G.O.A.T (not verified) on November 17, 2012 11:38 PM

kobe is already the greatest of all time. hes better than mj. 1) People say the Raptors but it doesnt matter nobody said shit when wilt scored a 100 while he was 7 feet tall and the rest of the league was 6'3 2) Kobe has 5 rings. 1 short doesnt even make a difference and he going to win one this and possibly next year. 3)even if kobe doesnt pass kareem he is 100% passing mj. 4) everyones calls him a ball hog but he averages 5.2 assist a game. and finally he is a 9 time all nba defensive player. soo everybody needs to get their heads out of the past and stop sucking michael jordans dick.

Calvin (not verified) on January 28, 2011 6:16 AM

I don't get some people. Every time we talk about Kobe's Rings its always that he was a sidekick etc... Jordan wouldn't have won 6 rings without Scottie Pippen and that's a fact. Shaq won a ring in Miami, do we say he was a sidekick? its a * when it comes to kobe and his rings. It's not fair. The next thing it will be is How many kobe will win with phil. Here's the facts Without Kobe or Shaq that team wouldn't have won without each other and the same with Pippen and MJ. Yall make it seem like that MJ won 6 rings all on his own. MJ didn't win ANY rings until Phil came and coached. He stopped playing ball hog and played team ball. Beforehand he didn't win anything. If Kobe wins 7 rings without no question he'll be G.O.A.T. Facts don't lie. He won 3 and went to the bottom and rose right back to the top. He I think he will avg 22-25 points per game the next 6 seasons. His game has no flaw he can still shoot.

Anonymous (not verified) on January 26, 2011 2:35 AM

Kobe is already an NBA Legend. While he may never surpass MJ, he is already one of the immortals.

nimble (not verified) on January 26, 2011 1:22 AM

very interesting piece,keep it up!
My take is Kobe is already in the top 5 in annals with many high and lowlights like MJ.That is enough IMO.

timmy .E (not verified) on January 25, 2011 11:38 PM

jordan will be the greatest regardless of what kobe achieves he has played equal the amount of games with 5 championships if he plays more big deal kobe didnt dominate college like jordan coz he didnt play jordan missed 2 years in his prime and would of won 8 straight every stat jordan dominates steals ,points,rebound,assists kobe has done nothing better ever appart from having heaps of three throws when he took a shit load of shots against a shit raptos side jordan is the man everyone no's he always will be ask anyone

Anonymous (not verified) on January 25, 2011 9:06 PM

first of all, kobe has 5 rings. Not counting the first three because he was the #2 guy is like saying scottie pippen had no rings. he has 5 rings, people.

I think overtaking Kareem by playing 6 more seasons with 25 ppg is unattainable. I think reaching the 30k point mark will be enough to cement his legacy as a scorer. only 4 players have reached that mark and kobe being the 5th will be enough.

I do agree that the he will need 7 rings to be considered as the greatest ever over Michael. the 7th will put him 1 up over MJ and will also prove that he can win without Phil, another thing MJ couldn't do.

But really, at this point, does he even need to prove his legacy? I think Kobe's already there. I think he already has basketball immortality and a shoo-in for the HOF.

@SnottieDrippen (not verified) on January 25, 2011 1:45 PM

Interesting piece. Only concern I have- its nearly IMPOSSIBLE for him to be snoring at a 25 ppg clip over the next 6 years, and while he may do it in this years playoffs, I doubt 3 years from now he'll be putting up 25 a game in the playoffs. Also, there are things outside of raw numbers that you listed, like 1) MJ never losing a Finals, 2) MJ's drive vs the perception that Kobe' quit on LA in that PHX series, and 3) Kobe' being more of a sidekick in the 1st 2 championships.