In the beginning of the aughts, the Los Angeles Lakers’ inexorable tandem of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal dominated the NBA – three-peating as champions from 2000-2002. In a messy divorce in 2004, Shaq moved to the Miami Heat and won his fourth championship in ‘06, leaving Bryant to fend for himself back in L.A. Four years later, Kobe crowned Shaq’s four rings, when he secured his fifth world championship as the Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals to win back-to-back titles. It was a bittersweet moment for Bryant, who was finally able to emerge from O’Neal’s enormous shadow. On Monday, Bryant was able to one-up Shaq again as he surpassed his former teammate for fifth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list in a Lakers 95-90 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center.
Bryant, 33, entered Monday the NBA’s leading scorer with a 29.4 points per game average, with already two scoring crowns under his belt, and needing only 24 points to eclipse Shaq. In his hometown of Philadelphia, the 16-year veteran didn’t waste any time in surpassing O’Neal’s 19-year career mark of 28, 596 points. Kobe scored 24 of his game-high 28 points in the first half on an array of shots. His first bucket saw the ball take a few whirls around the rim before falling through the net. He then buried a 3-pointer before abusing Sixers’ second-year guard Evan Turner (eight points) on the block with a spin move and fadeaway jumper for a quick seven points. The Lakers had a 24-21 lead heading into the second quarter and Bryant kept up his ferocious attack, shrugging off boos, as he was an unstoppable force. He starred down Andre Iguodala (12 points) for a three, before nailing two more 3-pointers to pull within two points of the Shaq. He achieved the record with 5:07 remaining in the first half, when he accepted a pass from Matt Barnes, who went scoreless, to convert a long jumper from top of the key to push him past O’Neal. Bryant’s bucket was originally ruled a 3-pointer before being changed to a two after the shot was reviewed. Three or two, it was enough to pass his former teammate. Bryant went 8-of-14 from the floor and made 4-of-6 3-pointers in the first half to help the Lakers lead 50-46 at the break.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Bryant now has 28,601 points in his career, trailing only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387), Karl Malone (36,928), Michael Jordan (32,292) and Wilt Chamberlain (31,419). Shaq praised Bryant on his accomplishment by telling ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, “I want to personally congratulate Kobe on being the greatest Laker ever. His accomplishment is great and well deserved, and I’m really proud of him. He told me when he was 18 years old that he’d go down as the greatest Laker ever, and one of the greatest players of all time. And he wasn’t lying.”
Next up for Bryant is fellow Philadelphia native, Chamberlain. Kobe and Wilt have already been linked in the past. Bryant broke Chamberlain’s Pennsylvania high school scoring record in 1996 while at Lower Merion by finishing with 2,883 points to The Big Dipper’s 2,252. And the Black Mamba’s 81-point game on Jan. 22, 2006 also happens to be the second-highest single scoring game in league history, trailing only Chamberlain’s 100-point game on March 2, 1962. Although, scoring titles, individual accolades, and surpassing O’Neal to catch Chamberlain maybe in Bryant’s immediate future, his focus still remains on capturing and equaling Jordan’s six championships. “I just want No. 6 man,” Bryant told ESPN, when asked where he wanted to finish on the all-time scoring list when he retires. “I’m not asking for too much, man. Just give me a sixth ring, damn it.”
In order to win that elusive sixth championship, the Lakers as a team have to improve their dismal (3-9) road record this season. Bryant went cold in the second half and couldn’t help his team in the fourth quarter, missing 9-of-10 shots. He and Sixers’ reserve Lou Williams went head to head down the stretch, but Lou got the better of Bryant outscoring the Black Mamba 14-2 in the final period. Williams hit the tying jumper, followed by the go-ahead 3-pointer to put Philadelphia up 91-88. Williams scored 14 of his 24 points in the fourth and spoiled Bryant’s record-setting night with a floater in the lane to put the 76ers up for good, 95-90, to improve their home record to 13-3. The Sixers will head to Boston to face the Celtics on Thursday.
The other Lakers’ offensive production came from center Andrew Bynum, who finished with a monster night of 20 points and 20 rebounds. The Lakers reserves were outscored, 49-16, as Bryant had no help when he was double-teamed. Pau Gasol finished with 16 points and Metta World Peace shot a woeful 1-of-6 shots for four points. The Lakers will host the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday at Staples Center.