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Tuesday, February 25, 2003
Updated: July 22, 5:28 PM ET
Pro and Con: Kobe's Streak

It's official. Kobe Bryant is in the zone. He owns the zone. Nine straight games with 40 or more points, trying to chase down Wilt's record. But how many of those 40s were at the expense of his team -- a team struggling just to make the playoffs? Is Kobe even thinking about wins and losses, or is his mind stuck on the record?

We corraled two writers with strong opinions on the matter, Dan Shanoff and Eric Neel of Page 2, to debate the issue. They also mixed it up with users in a special Kobe-themed buzz chat.

Reel it in, Kobe
"What's good for the team is the ball in the basket."

Last week, when my Page 2 colleague Ralph Wiley made the compelling case for Kobe Bryant as the greatest scoring force in the NBA ever, his argument was based on that statement.

There is, I think, a logical extension: What's good for the team is the ball in the basket, because what's best for the team is to win the game.

Kobe and Phil: A happy family?

And that's why Kobe's brick-city, me-first performance on Sunday night has me believing that he has veered out of control, nine games into his captivating 40-plus ppg streak:

Late in the game, sitting just under 40, Kobe couldn't put the ball in the basket, but he kept (mis)firing anyway, admittedly just to get his points -- literally, "shoot-first, apologize-later." And he nearly shot his team out of the game at a point in the season where every win is critical.

Kobe is, by all accounts, legacy-driven; to his credit, he wants to be considered the best basketball player ever. But I'm not quite sure where he got the idea that scoring an outrageous number of points translates into ascension into that top spot. It didn't do much for Wilt, for Dominique or for the Mailman.

There is one statistic that matters most in building an NBA legacy: wins. You need to accrue enough to get into the playoffs, then 16 as fast as you can get 'em. That's it.

The difference between Karl Malone and Michael Jordan, based on individual statistics, is negligible relative to the 6-0 gap in hand candy. Think Wilt wouldn't have traded in some of his gaudy numbers for a few of Russell's rings?

Chat: Kobe's Streak
Dan Shanoff and Eric Neel will defend their positions in chat at 4:30 p.m. ET. Submit your questions now.

Kobe's place among the Legends -- even at the very top-- will not be earned by crossing some mythical mathematical mark that happens to be a nice even integer. It will come by being the best player that leads a team -- any team -- to a bunch of championships. In other words: By establishing the "Kobe Dynasty."

So why is he jacking up six bad shots in the final five minutes against Seattle on Sunday night? Just to reach some arbitrary stat plateau? Meanwhile, the Sonics crept back into a game that the Lakers -- while surging -- desperately need in the ultra-competitive West playoff race.

Kobe might average 40 per game this season, but this legacy he cares so much about will be irrevocably tarnished if he puts himself ahead of his team, and for whatever reason this squad -- which has managed to win three straight titles -- can't come together for a fourth.

Like the less sexy-sounding 39 or 36 or 31 ppg is so shabby? It may not have the ring of 40, but then again, based on his display Sunday, 40 may not get him the ring.
--Dan Shanoff

Keep it up, Kobe
What's the problem? What are we talking about?

We're talking about a man carrying his mates, a man beating back the hounds of Lottery Hell when all around him have seemed ready to succumb from day one.

We're talking about a player unafraid of the big shot, a player hungry to be The Man.

Kobe's Lakers are 7-2 during the streak.

We're talking about a guy with a genuine contempt for losing -- anything, ever -- and an intense love of rings and parades.

We're also, by the way, talking about someone whose team has gone 11-2 in the last month. And moved from Lottery Land to Playoff City in the process, thank you very much.

We're talking . . .

A tidy .497 from the field during that stretch.

And sweet shots, too. Set-the-VCR stuff. Lovely stuff (even the misses are pretty) in nasty, triple-team, crunch-time snarls. Turnaround, quick-release Js, dips, leans and fades, and dunks that'll make a mama cry, Oh lawd, please, please don't hurt my baby. Skill shots. Must-see TV. The kind of proficiency that comes once in a generation.

We're talking . . .

.454 from way downtown in the last 13, and .471 in the last nine.

A guy who takes it to the rack and makes his throws. Bulldog toughness and student-of-the-game efficiency in one powerful package.

Someone who plays hurt, someone who picks up for the Daddy when he's riding the pine in civvies. Someone who knows every night he suits up that the freshest, youngest, meanest mugs on the other side are comin' to get him -- and he still suits up, and plays hard, and drops 40 on their fresh, young, mean, sorry tails.

And while we're at it, we're talking . . .

A willingness to improvise on the Zen Master's plans when the Zen ain't proving so masterly, and the postseason is as a snowflake dissolving in the pure air.

A sense of the moment and a sense of history. A guy playing to show us something and to be something. Forty is rare air; it has us thinking about MJ and the Stilt, and Kid K doesn't shrink from that company, he welcomes it, wants to be a part of it. The streak motivates him to try, and to pull off, wild, impressive moves night in and night out. It's great theater and we're lucky to be watching it.

We're talking a phenomenon that has -- along with T-Mac's ascendance and KG's double-double deluge -- energized the league.

And a run that's brought the Lakers' home crowd to life at a time when the boys need them most.

We're talking will, hunger, and the heart of a champion.

We're talking a player who worked like a madman all summer to be better this year than last, and a player who is getting stronger still, right before our eyes.

We're talking a man playing a game with which the Denver Nuggets are not familiar, and a game don't nobody wearing another uniform want to see come playoff time.

We're talking about a man who is feeling it right now -- feeling the pressure, feeling the possibility, feeling the challenge, and feeling the opportunity. He's supercharged, full of damn-the-torpedoes confidence and full-tilt desire.

That's what we're talking about.
--Eric Neel