Kobe Bryant, a supreme competitor, passes kindred spirit Michael Jordan on NBA scoring list

Kobe Byant scored 26 points on Sunday night, in the process reaching 32,310 points and surpassing Michael Jordan, who had 32,292, in a win for the Lakers.
Kobe Bryant of the Lakers waves to the crowd after passing Michael Jordan in the all-time scoring list during his team's NBA win over the Timberwolves on Sunday. Hannah Foslien / Getty Images / AFP / December 14, 2014
Kobe Bryant of the Lakers waves to the crowd after passing Michael Jordan in the all-time scoring list during his team's NBA win over the Timberwolves on Sunday. Hannah Foslien / Getty Images / AFP / December 14, 2014

All these years, Kobe Bryant has been chasing Michael Jordan.

The bar doesn’t get any higher than that. And after Bryant passed Jordan for third on the NBA’s career scoring list in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 100-94 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday night, he offered a glimpse into the relentless mentality it takes to run down a legend.

“I think the competitive nature is something that frightens a lot of people when you peel back truly what’s inside of a person to compete and be at that high level,” Bryant said. “It scares a lot of people that are just comfortable being average.”

Bryant has been compared to Jordan for a long time, in part because he dared to chase him. Where Bryant is every bit Jordan’s equal is in the tenacity that has kept him going through a torn Achilles tendon, bone-on-bone friction in his knees and now the painful rebuilding of a proud franchise.

“His competitiveness drives him in the off-season to work, to be able to play at the level he plays,” Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders said. “His competitiveness during the games to dominate offensively and defensively and then his competitiveness of wanting to win. He’ll challenge teammates if need be and will do whatever it takes to try to get that edge.”

It’s the only way Bryant knows. And he learned by studying the best.

“I think when you look at Michael’s (Hall of Fame) speech,” Bryant said, referring to a speech in which Jordan cited those who he perceived to have gotten in his way over the years, “people really got a chance to see how he ticks and it scared a lot of people, right? But that’s just the reality of it. You can’t get to a supreme level without channelling the dark side a little bit.”

Bryant’s willingness to embrace the darkness has, in his own eyes, cast him as one of the league’s villains. It also likely ensures that his farewell tour, whenever that comes, will not be of the warm and fuzzy variety that New York Yankees star Derek Jeter enjoyed last season.

“Derek and I are different people,” Bryant said. “He hides it a lot better but I guarantee you our competitive spirit is exactly the same. He just hides it better or chooses to hide it. I don’t choose to hide it.”

Then again, maybe he overestimates the animosity out there. Maybe that’s another mind trick that he plays on himself to get him out of bed in the morning and to the gym for another workout.

When No 24 stepped to the free-throw line midway through the second quarter on Sunday night – with 5:24 remaining and 24 seconds on the shot clock, to be exact – needing both shots to move past Jordan, a Lakers-heavy crowd at Target Center stood and serenaded him. Cell phone flashes flickered as the first and second shots swished through and the Timberwolves stopped the game, with owner Glen Taylor presenting Bryant the game ball to a thunderous ovation.

“I’m used to being the villain, man,” Bryant said with a sheepish smile. “To have moments like that, when you’re not expecting a hug and you get a hug, this feels pretty good.”

Once it was finally over, the weight lifted and Bryant found another gear against a young Timberwolves team that includes 19-year-olds Andrew Wiggins – the No 1 overall pick in the June draft – and Zach LaVine, who wears No 8 in honour of Bryant.

He finished the night with 26 points, including a dagger of a three-pointer over Wiggins’ outstretched hand with just over a minute to play that helped seal the win.

“I witnessed greatness tonight,” a star-struck Wiggins said. “A living legend passed Michael Jordan, who everyone thinks is the best player of all-time. That’s a big accomplishment. I’m glad I was there to witness it.”

Wiggins was one year old when a wide-eyed Bryant entered the league in 1996, and that wasn’t lost on him in the afterglow on Sunday night.

“It was a strange feeling,” Bryant said. “I remember being Andrew Wiggins. I remember playing against Michael my first year. To be here tonight and playing against him and seeing the baby face and the little footwork and little technique things that he’s going to be much, much sharper at as time goes on. It was like looking at a reflection of myself 19 years ago. It was pretty cool.”

Now that Bryant has bumped Jordan from the scoring podium, only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387) and Karl Malone (36,928) are in front of him.

Even if he remains in third place, which appears likely, it won’t really matter. Vaulting over Jordan, whose Jumpman logo is as synonymous with the NBA as Jerry West’s silhouette, is its own reward.

Maybe that’s why the insatiable Bryant wore the unfamiliar smile of satisfaction on Sunday night. He’s been trying for almost two decades. And now he can finally say he’s beaten Jordan at something.

“It has a certain finality to it,” he said. “When moments like this come around, you’re really overjoyed by it. At the same time, you know the end is pretty near, which is fine, too.”

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Raptors 95 (18-6), Knicks 90 (5-21) OT

Kyle Lowry had 21 points and 11 assists, controlling the overtime period and leading Toronto over New York.

Lowry missed a jumper that would’ve won it to end regulation, but then had two baskets and an assist in overtime, accounting for more points than the Knicks managed as a team.

Terrence Ross added a season-high 22 points for the Raptors, who maintained the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Carmelo Anthony had 34 points and nine rebounds for the Knicks, who played without injured guards Iman Shumpert and JR Smith.

Tim Hardaway Jr got the start and scored 18 points, but missed eight of his final 10 shots and finished 4-of-15.

Spurs 99 (17-7), Nuggets 91 (10-14)

Kawhi Leonard scored 18 points and San Antonio beat banged-up Denver.

Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili added 15 points apiece for the Spurs, who bounced back from Friday’s loss to the Lakers despite the absence of Tony Parker, who was out with an injured hamstring.

Arron Afflalo had a season-high 31 points to lead the Nuggets, who have lost six of their last seven games.

JJ Hickson started in place of injured Kenneth Faried and Ty Lawson left the game with 3:02 remaining in the second quarter after a collision with Ginobili opened a cut above his left eye. The cut was bandaged and he returned early in the third quarter.

Down by 10 points heading into the fourth quarter, the Nuggets pulled to 79-74 on a baseline jumper by Afflalo with 5:42 remaining.

The teams were trading baskets until Ginobili drained a three-pointer and Cory Joseph drove in for a reverse layup around a Nuggets turnover as San Antonio went in front 94-84 with 2 minutes left to play and Denver couldn’t get back within striking distance.

Thunder 112 (11-13), Suns 88 (12-13)

Russell Westbrook had 28 points, eight assists and eight rebounds, Kevin Durant added 23 points and eight rebounds and Oklahoma City won their sixth straight game, beating Phoenix 112-88.

Westbrook recorded his eighth straight game of scoring at least 20 points, and getting five rebounds and five assists since his return from a broken hand. By half-time, he had 24, five rebounds and six assists. He narrowly missed getting his ninth career triple-double.

With the win, Oklahoma City – who started the season 3-12 – moved within a half-game of eighth place in the Western Conference. The Thunder, with Westbrook and Durant back after missing most or all of the first part of the season due to injury, has won eight of their last nine games.

Gerald Green led Phoenix with 15 points. The Suns have lost five straight games.

Warriors 128 (21-2), Pelicans 122 (11-12) OT

Stephen Curry scored eight of his 34 points in overtime and Golden State won their 16th straight by beating New Orleans.

Klay Thompson added 29 points for the Warriors, whose franchise-long winning streak includes a club-record 10 straight road victories.

Tyreke Evans scored 34 points for the Pelicans, but fouled out with three minutes left in overtime.

Jrue Holiday had 30 points, nine assists and five steals for New Orleans, who were playing without Anthony Davis but still led 107-99 with 4:16 left in regulation.

Andre Iguodala had a season-high 20 points and Shaun Livingston scored 12 for Golden State. Marreese Speights added 10 points, including a free throw that tied the game at 111, a scored that held until regulation ended.

Wizards 93 (17-6), Jazz 84 (6-18)

John Wall had 16 points, eight assists and six rebounds, and Washington overcame a sluggish start to put away slumping Utah.

Wall also had five steals and three blocks, Bradley Beal scored 22 points, and Paul Pierce added 15 for the Wizards, who nearly succumbed to a letdown game after their big win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night. Washington committed 12 first-half turnovers against the Jazz, but Wall, Beal and Nene led a third-quarter surge, and Andre Miller’s driving layup in the first minute of the fourth quarter produced the game’s first double-digit lead.

Alec Burks scored 19 points, and Gordon Hayward had 16 for the Jazz, who have lost 11 of 12.

The Wizards have won four straight – the longest current winning streak in the Eastern Conference – and seven of eight.

Bulls 93 (15-8), Heat 75 (11-13)

Mike Dunleavy scored 22 points and Chicago overcame a sloppy start to beat offensively inept Miami.

Heat leading scorer Chris Bosh (calf strain) missed a game for the first time this season, which left them without enough punch or size to challenge Chicago. Miami shot a season-low 35 per cent, including 4-for-22 from three-point range.

Dunleavy was shut out in the first half but scored 19 points on eight shots in the third quarter, when Chicago outscored Miami 33-16. Dunleavy finished 4-for-5 from three-point range, while the Bulls shot 9-of-18 beyond the arc and 47 per cent overall.

Jimmy Butler had 17 points for the Central Division-leading Bulls. They improved to 11-3 on the road, best in the Eastern Conference.

Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng led Miami with 17 points apiece. The Heat’s point total matched their season low.

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Published: December 15, 2014 04:00 AM

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