Judge Kobe Bryant's stats
LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant doesn't normally celebrate being fifth place in anything, but sometime between now and next week, Bryant will pass Shaquille O'Neal for fifth place on the NBA's all-time scoring list and he will smile.
You've seen the smile before.
He flashed it after he won his last championship two years ago and said, "I just got one more than Shaq. So you can take that to the bank. You guys know how I am. I don't forget anything."
"No," he said with a grin. "It was inevitable."
Rehashing the feud between Bryant and O'Neal now that he's about to pass him on the all-time scoring list seems as dated as discussing the late-night wars between David Letterman and Jay Leno. Regardless of who's on top now, there isn't much more to add to the endless debate.
What Bryant is in the midst of doing is so much bigger than his spat with O'Neal and so much larger than climbing to the top of the scoring list, past the likes of Dominique Wilkins, Oscar Robertson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Elvin Hayes and Moses Malone.
Bryant is putting the final touches on a résumé that will make him not only one of the best players in NBA history, but perhaps the greatest Laker ever. This is not merely an opinion; it is a statistical fact.
Putting Bryant, one of the most polarizing athletes of our time, in the discussion of greatest players will always be controversial, but when he finally retires it will be hard to dispute the Black Mamba's black-and-white numbers in the record book.
Last season, Bryant became the Lakers' all-time leading scorer after already being the franchise leader in games, minutes played, field-goal attempts, three-point field goals and three-point field goal attempts. On Saturday, Bryant passed Jerry West for the most free throws made in franchise history, and on Sunday he passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most field goals made in franchise history. By the end of the season he will pass Magic Johnson for most steals in team history.
He might not be the most popular Laker in some circles, but there is no questioning his resume. He will be the greatest Laker of them all by every statistical measure.
That may sound blasphemous to fans of West and Magic, but every generation has its favorite Laker. If you're under 30, Bryant is your guy.
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There are some who would diminish Bryant's career by crediting his success and five championships to playing for Phil Jackson and with O'Neal and, later, Pau Gasol. It's an argument as ridiculous as trying to diminish Magic's career by crediting Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy and Pat Riley, or diminishing West's career by crediting Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Bill Sharman. The Lakers have never won a championship without a Hall of Fame coach on the bench and a Hall of Fame duo (sometimes trio) on the court.
Being the greatest player in the history of a franchise doesn't normally register nationally, but the Lakers are not just any franchise.
They have won 16 championships and have 13 players in the Hall of Fame. Being in the conversation for the best player in Lakers history puts you in the conversation for best player in NBA history.
Bryant will certainly not be the most beloved (Magic) or the most respected (West) or even the most dominating (Abdul-Jabbar) Laker, but what he will have on his side when he leaves the game are the records, numbers and championship rings to put him at the head of the table. If Bryant is judged by his performance rather than his perception, his résumé should speak for itself.
As Bryant continues to move his way up the all-time scoring list -- next up is Chamberlain -- his place in history will continue to be debated, but it will be impossible to debate his place atop nearly every statistical category in Lakers history. He might not be there yet but, as Bryant said, it's inevitable.Arash Markazi is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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