Commentary

Talk to Kobe when he scores sixth ring

Bryant passes Shaq en route to 5th all-time in scoring, but another title is all he wants

Updated: February 7, 2012, 10:44 AM ET
By Dave McMenamin | ESPNLosAngeles.com

PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia 76ers' highlight video that plays on the big screen at the Wells Fargo Center before tipoff is a triumph of editing and presentation.

Lou Williams dunks, then it cuts to Charles Barkley grabbing a rebound. Evan Turner shoots, then it splices to Julius Erving driving the lane. Andre Iguodala passes one second; the next, Bobby Jones takes it to the hoop. Allen Iverson crosses over Michael Jordan, then Jrue Holiday finishes a layup over LeBron James.

[+] EnlargeLakers
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesKobe Bryant on Monday moved ahead of Shaquille O'Neal and into fifth position on the NBA's all-time scoring list.
The seamless marriage between the game's historical greats coupled with the crop of today's talent is a perfect summation of where Kobe Bryant's career is at this point:

He has one foot firmly in the record books as a legend of the game, and the other standing pat as one of the best now. Today. This season.

Bryant was reminded of the duality Monday during the Los Angeles Lakers' 95-90 loss to the Sixers.

The history was there: Bryant scored 24 of his 28 points in the first half, passing Shaquille O'Neal for fifth place on the NBA's all-time scoring list by bringing his career total to 28,601 points. And so was the present: The Lakers' "old and slow" team -- as their star power, Bryant, 33, recently called them -- had four starters older than 30 against a Sixers starting five with an average age younger than 24.

Bryant is the NBA's Mick Jagger, still the best rock 'n' roll show around. As trite as it might sound, he continues to churn 16 years into a surefire first-ballot Hall of Fame career because he simply can't get no satisfaction.

Bryant's stock answer when asked about passing O'Neal and joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain as one of the five most lethal scorers ever to pick up a basketball?

"To say it's a huge honor would be an understatement," Bryant said. "It's a lot of basketball. I've been very, very fortunate to have such a good career."

Bryant's real answer, later in his postgame media session, after the subject of passing Shaq was revisited and the prospect of eclipsing Kareem was floated?

"I just want No. 6, man," Bryant said. "I'm not asking for too much, man. Just give me a sixth ring, damn it."

That's what it all boils down to: a man and his ambition.

The problem for Bryant is that while he might be one of only two people in the history of the sport to score more than 80 points in a single game on his own, he can't get to a sixth world championship by himself.

And if that's the problem, the question is whether Bryant can win another title with a Lakers roster that has started the season 14-11, including a troubling 3-9 record away from Staples Center.

"We have to play very solid, near-perfect basketball," Bryant said at shootaround Monday, when asked what the Lakers have to do to be in the realm of the contenders. "We've done it in stretches, so we're capable of contending. But our margin for error is not as great as some of the other teams."

Look no further than the Sixers. They are hardly considered to be on the level of the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and Chicago Bulls when it comes to championship favorites. But their "margin of error" seems far greater than the Lakers. Philadelphia was outrebounded 55-30 and only attempted 17 free throws to the Lakers' 20 on Monday, yet still won by five because the Sixers are deep, young and athletic, and they defend.

How many of those attributes can the Lakers claim?

The thing is, Bryant could easily settle.

He could be content passing Shaq in rings and points.

He could be quenched by leading the league in scoring at 33 years old -- putting up close to 30 points per game with a torn ligament in the wrist that controls his shooting hand.

He could relish the thought of being the last man standing among his contemporaries, like when he comes to Philly, where Iverson is long gone. Or be tickled when he played the Dallas Mavericks and Vince Carter came off the bench. Or boast about scoring 42 points against the Cleveland Cavaliers while Antawn Jamison put up just nine; the pair combined for 51 points on Bryant's heavy lifting, but there was a time when Kobe and Jamison scored 51 apiece playing a game against each other in 2000.

All that is just not enough for Bryant.

It's not enough for the people with whom he surrounds himself, either.

Bryant's trainer, Tim Grover, stood outside the Lakers' locker room waiting for Kobe to emerge.

What did he think of Bryant passing Shaq?

"Ask me that when he gets to No. 1," Grover said in a quiet moment. "I was more pleased to see no tape on his wrist and no sleeves on his knees."

The league is changing around him, and Bryant is doing everything he can to stay the same. The same strong-willed scorer. The same threat in the eyes of opponents. The same winner.

Kobe-to-Shaq alley-oop in 2000. Kobe-to-Andrew Bynum alley-oop in 2012. It doesn't matter; the march continues.

Bryant's lone bucket of the third quarter, a sublime reverse layup, had shades of the Dr. J highlights the Sixers showed before tipoff. Kobe deserves to be compared to Erving, a former teammate of his father, Joe "Jellybean" Bryant.

But you'll have to excuse him if he'd rather hear his name mentioned in the same breath as LeBron and Dwyane Wade when the Lakers play the Heat, or Derrick Rose when they play the Bulls, or Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook when they play the Thunder.

He's still about today, and he's much more interested in another ring in the future than reminiscing about the five he has won in the past.

Bryant's latest accomplishment doesn't make it the time to think back to all his greatest hits. He's still adding to the set list.

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