The instant he tugged at the rope, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar saw an imposing and towering presence.
The famed Lakers center saw a 16-foot, 1,5000 pound bronze image of his likeness that delighted his fans and frustrated his opponents. The statue featured Abdul-Jabbar wearing goggles with his right leg kicked up and right arm forming an arc, ready to shoot his signature skyhook.
In a phone interview with this newspaper, Abdul-Jabbar pointed to that distinguishable skill set proving largely instrumental in shattering the NBA’s all-time leading scorer’s mark (38,387 points) through a 20-year career that also spanned both six NBA championships and MVP awards.
Could anyone ever break his record?
“Sure, but somebody is going to have to play pretty close to 20 years and be the offensive focus and be someone the coach wants him to take a lot of shots,” he said. “Who knows who is going to last that long. LeBron (James) and Kobe [Bryant] can certainly score and might do it. But most people tell me they’re making too much money and won’t want to play that long.”
Abdul-Jabbar’s assumptions are correct.
Bryant, who’s competitive as they come, currently ranks fifth on the league’s all-time scoring mark (29,726), exactly a 8,692-point difference between the two accomplished Lakers. Could Bryant eclipse Abdul-Jabbar?
“If I wanted to play long,” Bryant said. “I don’t know if I want to.”
Bryant doesn’t appear to say those words just to downplay individual accomplishments. He has strongly hinted this season he may retire once his contract expires following the 2013-14 season.
Regardless of whether he has a two-year shelf life or beyond, it’s likely Bryant will play with other formidable stars. Presuming Dwight Howard re-signs with the Lakers after this season, Bryant will play with other teammates the rest of his career without the burden simply to dominate the scoring column.
“Kobe’s priorities right now are to win a championship with the team that we have,” Lakers forward Pau Gasol said. “But he’s going to score because he’s a natural scorer.”
But at what pace?
For the past five seasons, Bryant averaged around 25-27 points per game each year. Four of those five seasons, Bryant hovered around 2,000 points per year. His only dropoff happened last year where he scored 1,616 points in 58 games of a 66-game lockout shortened season. Should he play only two more reasons and maintain that rate, it’s likely he’d pass Wilt Chamberlain (31,419 points) and possibly Michael Jordan (32,292 points). That would put Bryant in third place behind Karl Malone (36,928).
“If anyone has a chance, it’ll be Kobe,” said former Lakers forward Michael Cooper, who currently coaches USC’s women’s basketball team. “It’ll be exciting to see him get close and exciting to see if he’s willing to test the boundaries of his physical health to get that record.
It’s unlikely that would happen.
Bryant scores by mostly attacking the basket and using his footwork to make mid-range jumpers along the elbows, post and baseline. Surely it’s in Bryant’s nature to squeeze as much production out of himself as he can. It’s why his 17-year career remains so prolific with five NBA titles, two Final MVPS, one league MVP, four All-Star MVPs and two Olympic gold medals. But Bryant also has little interest in prolonging his career even it comes at the expense of his level of play dropping off.
That’s why Lakers forward Metta World Peace focused on another candidate who could break Abdul-Jabbar’s scoring record.
“LeBron’s going to catch him,” World Peace said. “He’s going to play forever.”
James currently ranks 49th overall with 19,293 points in only nine NBA seasons. Considering he has averaged 27.6 points his whole career, the 28-year-old James may need to play at least eight more seasons to surpass Abdul-Jabbar (and that’s assuming James stays healthy).
Still, Abdul-Jabbar’s former teammate remains confident he won’t hold onto his record forever.
“There will be players who will be able to break that in the up and coming years,” Cooper said. “That’s why records are meant to be broken. But he’s definitely set the standard. They set a distance far apart. But you have kids coming along who could score 40 or 50. It will be amazing to see when it happens.”
So how will that be possible?
“You have to have an unstoppable shot like Kareem,” Cooper said. “You have to be a player who will shoot a high percentage all the time. It doesn’t have to be a center, but it has to be someone who puts points in the basket. It will be a while before it gets broken. He’s did a really good job at setting the standard.”
Hence, why the Lakers’ current center figured Abdul-Jabbar deserves his due for setting it in the first place.
“They have to play for over 30 years to catch him,” Lakers center Dwight Howard said. “Then they have to work on the skyhook.”
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