SACRAMENTO — Only one thing drives Kobe Bryant.
It explains why he’s willing to put his feet in ice buckets everyday to treat a bone spur in his left foot and a sprained left ankle. Or why Bryant willingly changed from the Lakers’ scorer to their defacto point guard. Or why on earth he demanded to play all but 23 seconds of the Lakers’ 103-98 victory Saturday over the Sacramento Kings.
Those championship rings. He already has five of them. But Bryant wants more. At least seven, assuming Bryant retires once his contract expires after the 2013-14 season. Who knows?
“It’s really just about wanting to play,” Bryant said. “I could play and change my role completely and play point guard and average 20 points and 12 assists. “It’s just a matter if I want to.”
On the same night he became the fourth-leading scorer in NBA history by surpassing Wilt Chamberlain’s 31,419 points, Bryant suggested he won’t take up that role. Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387), Karl Malone (36,928) and Michael Jordan (32,292) have scored more than Bryant (31,434) in NBA history.
Could Bryant surpass Abdul-Jabbar?
“I don’t see it happening,” Bryant said after the Lakers’ 103-98 win Saturday over the Sacramento Kings. “But if I change my mind and decide to play a little bit longer and be a [point guard], that’s what I’ll do.”
Bryant sounded surprised enough he lasted this long.
Bryant’s latest accomplishment spans a storied 17-year career that includes five NBA championships, two Finals MVPs, one regular season MVP and four All-Star MVPs.
“What a journey,” Bryant said of passing Chamberlain. “It’s been a very, very long journey. I’m certainly extremely appreciative of all the support from the Laker faithful and Laker nation. To come from a 17 year old kid to become a 34-year old man and have all the support they’ve given me throughout my career.”
Bryant’s words went beyond platitudes.
He and Chamberlain remain linked in numerous ways.
Chamberlain went to Overbrook High School, just down the road along Philadelphia’s Main Line from Bryant’s Lower Merion. Bryant surpassed Chamberlain’s Philadephia area high school scoring record (2,252 points) by finishing with 2,883 points. Bryant’s career-high 81 points on Jan. 22, 2006 remains the second highest single-scoring game, trailing Chamberlain’s 100 points he scored March 2, 1962.
The geographic proximity led to other connections.
Chamberlain went to Overbrook High School with Bryant’s grandmother and even asked her to senior prom. But she declined because she was dating Bryant’s future grandfather. Chamberlain also played in the NBA when Bryant’s dad, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant played in the NBA for several teams, including the Philadelphia 76ers.
“He knew me as Jelly Bean’s son,” Bryant recalled. “He picked me up and showed me all the love in the world.”
Bryant still remembers the day vividly.
“I remember the first time I met him when I was eight years old,” Bryant said. “The first thing that struck me was that he was Bombaata from Conan the Barbarian. That was the most impressive thing to me. He was a warm hearted gentleman. I have nothing but praise for him obviously. But to pass him up is a huge honor to say the least.”
Bryant will likely do the same thing against Michael Jordan midway through next season. Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson has said Bryant attaches extra significance toward surpassing Jordan considering the endless comparisons on their scoring mentalities, global impact and insatiable competitiveness.
“Michael and I had two different career paths,” Bryant said, who’s one championship shy of tying Jordan. “But the common denominator we have is our passion for the game and commitment to the game.”
Bryant surely showed that commitment against the Kings.
Despite nursing a bone spur in his left foot that stemmed from compressing his sprained right ankle, Bryant told D’Antoni he wanted to play the hole game. Bryant found his shot enough to surpass Chamberlain’s record off an elbow jumper with 7:51 left in the first quarter. But Steve Nash’s strained right hip and Bryant’s 5 of 18 mark spurred the Lakers guard to dish off 14 assists.
“Sometimes you have to will your will through it,” Bryant said. “Now is not the time to sit back. You have to take this challenge head on.”
But Bryant’s challenge doesn’t involve climbing up this scoring list. It involves somehow bringing this frazzled Lakers team back into playoff contention and then beyond. Bryant still wants that sixth championship ring.
“The biggest thing I take out of it is the longevity,” Bryant said. “To play able to play for so many years and still play at a high level. That’s what im most proud of.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org