Monday, February 1, 2010
Updated: February 2, 11:46 AM ET
Passing West highlights season
By Dave McMenamin
When I worked at the career development center as a part time job when I was in college, the bulk of my daily responsibilities revolved around advising students on their résumés.
A lot of the overachievers came in with their two-page curriculum vitae and we would have to whittle away at their positions as waiters, bus boys and camp counselors to fit everything onto one page and highlight what would be most important for prospective employers.
I'm glad I never had to help Kobe Bryant. At this point, you'd need reams and reams of paper to capture everything he's done on the court.
Bryant added to his Lakers legacy Monday, scoring 44 points -- the same number that Jerry West wore in Los Angeles -- to pass West for the all-time franchise scoring lead with 25,208 points.
The eclipse came with 4:14 remaining in the third quarter, when Jordan Farmar caught a Ron Artest outlet pass and set up Bryant for an uncontested, two-handed dunk to finish the two-on-zero fast break and nudge past The Logo's total of 25,182.
The actual basket summed up his scoring career quite succinctly. It was wide open and effortless, and he's always scored with ease no matter how many defenders were between him and the basket. It was a dunk that was unspectacular, but it was still a dunk nonetheless, and dunks are how he built his initial buzz in the league more than 1,000 games and 36,000 minutes of playing time ago. It came in the eighth game of an eight-game, 13-day and 8,469-miles-travelled road trip when his teammates (Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, in particular) were noticeably a step slow while Bryant was the one playing on a sprained right ankle.
"It's a tremendous honor," Bryant said Sunday of the achievement he was approaching. "There's a lot of work that's been put into it. [I've received] a lot of great advice from a lot of different mentors, [West] being the primary one. When I first came into the league, I remember riding in a Lexus with him and him giving me advice from day one. So I can't take credit for it. I really gained a great deal of advice from a lot of great players that came before me."
And what was the best advice Bryant received from West, the Lakers' general manager who traded for Bryant back on draft day in 1996?
"Not to be afraid of success," Bryant said. "That's one of the things he told me that he felt like he was challenged in dealing with, to not be afraid of winning."
Bryant has certainly taken that lesson to heart. His individual accomplishments are innumerable, and his four championships and gold medal with U.S.A. Basketball certainly prove he is just as capable in the team game.
But the Lakers lost to the Grizzlies 95-93 on Monday.
Bryant, he of five game winners on the season, was pressured at the top of the key and fired a swing pass to Artest in the corner with less than a second to go. Artest, who was 2-for-2 from deep at the time, came up blank at the buzzer on his third 3-point attempt, and L.A. left Memphis with a 5-3 record on the road trip.
Some people will say that Bryant should have shot it himself. He was 16-for-28 (including 4-for-7 on 3s) at the time, so a heat check wouldn't have been out of the question. Phil Jackson said he would have liked to see more "action" before the final pass and he had a point, since L.A. corralled the defensive rebound off a Mike Conley missed free throw with 20.9 seconds left, leaving plenty of time to go for a game-tying two rather than a last-second 3.
It was eerily similar to a play made by LeBron James a couple of years ago in the playoffs in a game against Detroit when James found a wide-open Donyell Marshall in the corner and Marshall came up empty like Artest.
It was the right play by James and the right play by Bryant, no matter what the outcome.
But Lakers fans were on the edge of their seats begging for Bryant to take that shot on his own, and the only thing to blame for that line of thinking is Bryant's brilliance.
He's hit so many miraculous shots, pulled so many rabbits out of so many hats, snatched so many victories out of the jaws of so many defeats that the expectations placed upon him at this point are inhuman.
And his major career achievements have been coming in such rapid succession recently that it feels like they're A, B and C ramps on the same highway exit.
So far this season he's passed Patrick Ewing for 15th on the NBA's all-time scoring list, then became just the 15th player in league history to surpass the 25,000-point plateau, and now passes West to set the new standard for the Lakers and inch another spot up the league's all-time list to No. 14.
Nothing Bryant accomplishes is examined in a vacuum. The fact that his NBA career started in 1996, the same year that the Internet started to blossom into the integral life companion it is today, has certainly helped.
As the Mamba has marched through milestone after milestone this season, a quick Google search gives us the context to color in the accomplishment.
When Bryant hit his game-winning jumper in Boston on Sunday, we could immediately go to YouTube to rank it in our heads against the rest of the annals of clutch shots by Kobe. When Bryant was approaching 25K, I was able to find more mind-bending stats to represent his reign, and with just a click of the button I knew, without having to look it up again, that Bryant's 44 points on Monday represented the 104th time he'd gone off for 40-plus in his career.
He broke out the full repertoire in Memphis, mixing in a left-handed finger roll, a buzzer-beating 3 to end the first quarter, a driving dunk that sent Pau's little brother, Marc, scrambling to the side like a soccer goalie who guesses wrong on a penalty kick, a banked-in 3-pointer, another 3-pointer that received a generous shooter's roll, one-dribble pull-ups, fadeaways, you name it.
It was a scintillating scoring display by the greatest Laker there ever was at scoring the basketball, but his 44 points should remind everyone of West not just because it was the number he wore but by the outcome of the game. West lost eight of the nine Finals he played in despite his bevy of buckets.
The ultimate honor Bryant can pay to his mentor would be having the first line in the "work experience" portion of his résumé read, "Won fifth NBA championship" come June.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.