At some point soon, and likely when the Los Angeles Lakers take on the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday, LeBron James will score at least 18 more points and move his career total past Kobe Bryant, bumping himself up to third place on the list of NBA All-Time scoring leaders.
At that point, all this will stand between James and the top spot are the point totals of Karl Malone (36,928) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387), both still a ways off (as of today, James stands at 33,626 points, while Bryant finished his career with 33,643).
But passing Bryant is different than moving past either of those two legends, and will surely lead to at least partially mixed reactions from a fanbase that watched Bryant grow for his entire career and has only counted James as one of its elite for the last year and a half.
However, it’s worth noting that both men have gone out of their way to dissuade any such feelings (and the Lakers’ record right now surely doesn’t hurt in the acceptance of James’ greatness, either).
For Bryant’s part, he said earlier this week that he was happy for James, and that Lakers fans should be excited for any Laker making history. For James, who spoke about what it was going to mean to pass Bryant with reporters after beating the New York Knicks on Wednesday, it’s a moment to think about a player who helped him dream all of this was possible. (via Spectrum SportsNet):
“(He is) another guy that I looked up to when I was in grade school and high school, and seeing him come straight out of high school... Seeing a kid that was 17 years old coming into the NBA and trying to make an impact on a franchise, I just used that as motivation. He helped me before he even knew he helped me because of what he was able to do.
“Just to be able to at this point in my career to share the same jersey that he wore, be with this historical franchise and just represent the purple and gold, it’s very humbling. It’s dope.
“Kobe is a legend, that’s for damn sure.”
And while James said he didn’t try to mirror any of Bryant’s game, he says that’s because they were different players, not due to any lack of respect for what Bryant brought to the table.
In fact, James thinks they would have complemented each other well at teammates:
“I can’t sit here and say that I did (try to copy elements of Bryant’s game) because we were just two totally different players. His willingness to do whatever it takes to win is something that you admire, and you love his drive to get better and better every year, but as far as his game, we’re different players. I’m more of a facilitator, and he’s a natural-born scorer, so we would’ve worked well together, as you saw on the Olympic team.”
Lakers fans will never get to see Bryant and James work well together on the court, but them teaming up off the court to try and make this moment as cool as it deserves to be — instead of as awkward as it could have been if they’d approached it with less geniality — makes convincing evidence for James’ argument.