Kobe Bryant's passing of Shaquille O'Neal
for fifth place on the NBA's all-time scoring list Monday night brings to mind many things.
While it would be fun to rehash their legendary feud (one that warrants its own Wikipedia page
) and take sides -- it always seemed easier to take Shaq's -- let's put it to rest and accept that they will at least be cordial now, even if you can be certain they'll never be close. From a personal standpoint (which means nothing) though, I have to give Kobe credit for evolving into an assassin of a player, and in the process becoming more respected.
I think most of us can agree that in the spring of 2003 Kobe suffered from a crippling lack of likability. Facing less-than-airtight criminal charges in Colorado, he failed to help own his cause when he reportedly told police how if he paid off women "like Shaq," he wouldn't have found himself in trouble. While he was unquestionably the best shooting guard in basketball at the time, the Lakers were still O'Neal's team.
Fast-forward a couple of years, through Shaq's departure and rap
, and Kobe's subsequent two titles as the man
It seems in retrospect that after the sexual assault charges were dropped in '04, with his image -- and endorsement list -- in near ruins, he made it his mission to become the best player in the NBA.
Granted, there were some lean Laker years in there where he was the only scoring option -- the '06 team he played on when he dropped 81 on the Raptors was a mediocre squad that lost in the first round of the playoffs. But it's also that era when we realized he was all about basketball. In the summer of 2010, while LeBron James' handlers were concocting a made-for-TV special designed to broadcast his "Decision" and make him look like an idiot at the same time, my buddy Knuckler pointed out that Kobe was probably shooting hoops or doing something basketball-related. While obviously we don't know this to be fact, the point was made.
And not to put too fine a point on his attitude, but there's something oddly admirable about it. Last season when the Lakers were in Toronto, in the locker room after the game a reporter jokingly asked him if he knew the outcome from his beloved Philadelphia Eagles' game that day. Without skipping a beat, he smiled and responded "don't f*** with me!" Vulgarity aside, it was refreshing to hear this from the top athlete in his sport, one no longer adhering to media training and solely concerned about being a "global icon."
Kobe's passing Shaq on the scoring list isn't surprising. But it's who's next who might be, assuming he hangs on and plays at a consistent (for him) level. Bryant has been lucky enough to have never lost a significant portion of an NBA season to injury, something few greats can say (Michael Jordan, foot, 1985-86). Going into Thursday, Kobe is 2,818 points behind Wilt Chamberlain for fourth and 3,691 behind Jordan.
Money says he will make it. But as he told the media Monday night when asked where he may end up on that list: "I just want number six."
Titles, that is.Clips take a hit
Go figure, a week after I heaped praise on the Los Angeles Clippers, Chauncey Billups goes and injures his Achilles tendon in Monday's game against the Magic. While the extent of the injury was still unknown Tuesday morning, rumours were swirling that it's a season-ender. I don't know much about anything, but one thing I do know is that Achilles injuries are rarely "not bad."
If Billups is done, it's a massive blow to the Clippers, one that could even eliminate them from Finals contention. He's been a catalyst all season, and it's not just his near-15-points a game that the team will miss. His leadership has been crucial, and with many doubting Vinny Del Negro's abilities as a head coach, Billups's experience may have actually been able to partially offset that on the floor. That's something the addition of Kenyon Martin won't help.Lin knocks down biases
How about Jeremy Lin? Dude's finding out what it's like to be a star in Gotham after leading the New York Knicks in scoring (25 and 28) the past two games -- both wins -- with Amar'e Stoudemire sidelined due to his brother's death and Carmelo Anthony out injured most of Monday's game. Somebody had to step up for the Knicks in this situation, and give the Harvard grad credit for seizing the opportunity -- he had only played garbage time for the Warriors last year and the Knicks up until last week.
While at Harvard, the guard was the subject of a 2009 Time magazine article on the subtle and not-so-subtle biases faced by Lin as a basketball player of Asian descent. Case in point: The Bay Area native was named Northern California Player of the Year in high school in 2006, but was not offered an NCAA basketball scholarship (some schools wanted him only as a walk-on, while Harvard and Brown were the only schools to guarantee him a spot on the basketball team (and Ivy League schools don't give out athletic scholarships).
Lin's current magic may lie on teammate Landry Fields's couch, though. The night before scoring 25 on the Nets, Lin slept on it. He told NBA TV Monday night that he's in talks with Chandler about buying it.
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