Kobe Bryant's Streak and History

March, 26, 2007
3/26/07
4:21
PM ET

Basketball writer Roland Lazenby writes that anyone who is going to compare Kobe Bryant's streak to Wilt Chamberlain's has to realize that Chamberlain set those records playing for an owner, Eddie Gottlieb, who was insistent that the big fellow score like a maniac at all costs. Lazenby says with that in mind, Bryant's streak is probably more impressive.

In those days, pro basketball was only about survival. You had to sell enough tickets to last the season.

In 1959-60, Gottlieb finally got his hands on the ultimate "somebody," Wilt Chamberlain. He played heavy minutes as a rookie and averaged 37.6 points per game.

But that first year was nothing compared with 1961-62, when he averaged an all-time best 50.4 points a game.

Gottlieb made sure that Chamberlain played virtually every minute of the season, including all the blowouts. Of the 3,890 minutes the Warriors played during the regular season, Chamberlain spent just eight minutes on the bench the entire year.

As his average reveals, he took 3,159 shots, nearly one for every minute he played, and rang up a stunning 4,029 points.

Bryant's critics complain bitterly if he takes 36 shots over the course of a contested game.

Wilt, on the other hand, became the NBA's freak show.

Like Bryant, he seemed to have a hard time earning the love of the fans.

Nobody loves Goliath, remarked Franklin Mieuli, who bought the Warriors and moved them to San Francisco. "Chamberlain is not an easy man to love. I don't mean that I personally dislike him. He's a good friend of mine. But the fans in San Francisco never learned to love him. I guess most fans are for the little man and the underdog, ,and Wilt is neither. He's easy to hate, and we were the best draw on the road when people came to see him lose."

Bryant, of course, has similar issues for different reasons. But which scoring streak came closer to happening in a competitive context?

Probably Bryant's recent streak fits that better.

On the other hand, does it matter?

If you're interested in the maximum limits of human performance, yes, it does.

But if you're interested in winning team basketball, well, it's championships won that cements the reputation of a great player.

UPDATE: Kurt from Forum Blue & Gold doesn't buy for a second that Bryant's determination to shoot a lot in recent games has hurt the Lakers in any way:

Let's start with the very basic bottom line - the Lakers had lost seven in a row before the streak and had played like crap for a month. Now, they have won five in a row, solidifying a playoff spot just a week after people were whispering that the team would drop of the postseason out all together.

And what about those "other players" who have been left out in the cold. Since he came back from injury (six games ago), Lamar Odom has shot 58% from the floor and averaged 16.5 points and 11.5 rebounds per game, including 24 and 19 against Golden State. Luke Walton came back five games ago (timed with the winning streak - coincidence?) and is shooting 50% (eFG%) while averaging 9.4 points, 7.4 assists and 5.6 rebounds a game. They are doing just fine with Kobe scoring a ton, thank you.

Then there are the other guys getting room to step up as Kobe has drawn the double and triple teams. Shammond Williams is coming off the bench, shooting 53.8% from beyond the arc and taking care of the ball, which is why he and not Smush closed out the game against Golden State. Ronny Turiaf had 7 points, 4 rebounds and 2 blocks in the fourth quarter against Golden State off the bench. Against the Nooch, Kwame Brown stepped up with 10 points on 5-7 shooting. Each of the last five games has other examples.

Kobe's points have come at the expense of some - like the slumping Smush Parker (shooting just 45% [eFG%] and 23% from three in his last 10 games) and the injured Brian Cook. But is it really bad when you best shooter takes shots that would have gone to slumping or injured players?

One thing I noticed about Kobe Bryant's recent play, which I have been watching on and off on video all day? It's amazing, and disappointing in a way, how few of Bryant's baskets are assisted. He's playing with some willing passers, and the triangle would seem like as good a system as any ever devised to create opportunities for assists. But almost everything Bryant gets he creates for himself, often with much difficulty.

After yesterday's game a reporter asked Bryant whether or not he could average 50 if he really tried, and he said: "No way. I'm not that tall. I have to work too damned hard to get shots up." 

Too true.

Compare that to the 2001 NBA Finals, when I recall Laker assistant Jim Cleamons explaining to reporters the difference between Philadelphia's "save us Allen!" offense, and the Lakers' triangle. Philadelphia's system tore up guys like Iverson, said Cleamons, put too much strain on them, and contributed to injuries. The triangle, on the other hand, with its passing, cutting, and spacing, let people score in the context of the offense without being heroic.

Now it seems like Bryant's offensive predicament, at least this week, is much like Iverson's was. It looks like a lot of hard work. It looks like the kind of thing that would tear you up. Bryant's strong like a bull, but he can't keep this up forever. And what happened to those easy buckets in the flow of the offense that Jim Cleamons was talking about six years ago? For Bryant, I think a high percentage of 2001's easy buckets may have come facing defenses that were paranoid about Shaquille O'Neal.  

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