Bryant moves up the scoring ladder

Lakers guard Kobe Bryant took another big step in NBA history last Monday with a long-distance two-point shot against the Philadelphia 76ers. That shot, his 24th point of the game, moved him past former teammate Shaquille O’Neal for fifth top scorer of all time.

O’Neal sits at 28,596 career points, but Bryant now sits at 28,662 points.

Of all the people who have been a part of Bryant’s career, the most unlikely was the first to congratulate him.

The storied rivalry between the former teammates, Bryant and O’Neal, is well documented. But as soon as Bryant sank that long-distance two-point shot, O’Neal called up ESPN reporter Stephen A. Smith, who was covering the game, and left a message for Bryant: “Congratulations for being the greatest Laker ever.”

This is a title Bryant definitely deserves. But before we start looking ahead to where he will end up in the pantheon of NBA greatness, we need to look back at his 16-year career and appreciate his present game as he continues to make history.

Now in his 16th season, Bryant has logged more minutes than has any other active player in the NBA. If you include almost two seasons’ worth of playoff minutes, he has played 18 seasons of basketball. I won’t even bother listing the number of players whose bodies could not handle the physical strain of that much basketball, whose mentality was not strong enough to push themselves, and were then forced to hang up their sneakers.

It is clear that Bryant’s work ethic is unparalleled. He takes better care of his body — and his game — than any other player. That is why, 16 seasons into his legendary career, he can still score better than anybody.

There have been seven 40-plus point games by players aged 33 or older: Bryant has four of them, all this season and all sequential. He is still arguably the most watchable and exciting player in the league and, in my opinion, the best.

Basketball analysts and veterans everywhere will tell you that when “Father Time” comes knocking, he hits you like a brick wall. While Bryant’s legs continue to weaken and his athleticism dwindles, nobody can argue that Bryant has been Father Time’s most worthy adversary in the league.

This begs the question, however, of where he will end up on the ladder of career scoring. He has just four players ahead of him: Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

If basketball’s history is any indication, he will probably finish third behind Malone and Abdul-Jabbar. But keeping in mind his competitive drive and how fixated Bryant is on the game of basketball, I think that even Abdul-Jabbar’s record is in jeopardy.

After all, Bryant is just under 10,000 points away from passing Abdul-Jabbar — roughly 25 points per game for the next five seasons. Bryant is currently averaging is 29.4 points per game in the 2011-12 season. Even if he doesn’t maintain those numbers over the next five seasons, he can easily make up the difference with more seasons. The only question that remains is if his body can last five, six, or seven more seasons. However, passing Abdul-Jabbar is not what really motivates Bryant: Winning a sixth championship does. “I just want number six. I’m not asking too much. Just get me a sixth ring, damn it,” Bryant said in the post-game interview to ESPN reporters after last Monday’s game.

A sixth championship will put him past fellow Laker player Magic Johnson and on par with Jordan and Abdul-Jabbar.

This man’s thirst for basketball greatness will not be quenched until he gets another championship. Frankly, this man’s thirst for basketball greatness will probably never be quenched.