Kobe Bryant has fought through a broken bone in his knee, torn Achilles’ tendon, numerous sprained ankles and chronic knee pain so severe it required cutting-edge treatment in Germany, all while investing 46,386 career minutes over 19 seasons (not including playoffs).
The Minnesota Timberwolves almost certainly won’t keep him from passing Michael Jordan for third on the NBA all-time scoring list Sunday.
It’s a matter of how, not when, Bryant gets his ninth point to pass Jordan’s 32,292.
Will it be his trademark fadeaway from the pinch post? Maybe even add a pump-fake or two?
A throwback to his high-flying days with a dunk?
Perhaps it will be something as mundane as free throws, of which he has made 8,103 in his career.
And who will get the assist? The postgame quotes would be three times as entertaining if it’s Nick Young, Bryant’s verbal sparring partner earlier this week in practice.
As if that would happen.
“Nick hasn’t passed all year,” Lakers Coach Byron Scott said. “How’s he going be the one to pass it to him?”
Indeed, Young is averaging 0.7 assists this season.
Scott remembers being there when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar became the all-time scoring leader in 1984.
It happened on a feed from Magic Johnson and a baseline sky hook over Utah’s Mark Eaton in a strangely scheduled regular-season game in Las Vegas.
Abdul-Jabbar needed 21 points to pass Wilt Chamberlain at the time.
“When he got to 18, 19, I think everybody was keeping count to see when he was going to break it,” Scott said. “And I think everybody knew what shot it was going to be. And Magic made it a point that he was going to pass it to him.”
Bryant has needed more time to get here than Jordan, who did it in 1,072 games while averaging 30.1 points.
Bryant, surrounded by much more talent than Jordan when he entered the league 12 years later, will be playing his 1,269th game, bringing in a 25.5-point average in his 19-year career.
Bryant, 36, has been talking about it for weeks, a triple-digit cushion by Jordan not enough to keep the anticipation from starting last month.
He has mainly downplayed it, occasionally throwing in some reverence but typically stating the importance of winning championships over personal statistics.
His contemporaries have done it for him, most notably Brian Shaw, a running mate for three championship runs on the Lakers.
“I think that he’ll probably just say that it’s just another milestone, but it’s obvious that Jordan was somebody that Kobe idolized and looked up to,” Shaw said, reflecting on his days as a mentor for a young Bryant. “Whether he says it or not, I personally feel that it would be one of his greatest accomplishments.”
Whether it happens in the first or second quarter Sunday — or maybe even third — there’s at least one admirer from an adversarial corner.
“It’s a heck of a body of work, for sure,” San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich said “Obviously it’s proof that he’s a quite accomplished individual, both skill-wise and competitiveness-wise. He’s one of the all-time ultimate warriors on the court. You don’t get to that point without that.”
LAKERS ON SUNDAY
When: 4 PST.
Where: Target Center.
On the air: TV: TWC SportsNet, TWC Deportes; Radio: 710, 1330.
Records: Lakers 7-16, Timberwolves 5-17.
Record vs. Timberwolves: 0-1.
Update: The Timberwolves have lost seven of eight since beating the Lakers, 120-119, at Staples Center. Rookie Zach LaVine scored 28 points in that game, but the young Timberwolves haven’t done much since then. Andrew Wiggins, the top pick in the 2014 draft, is averaging 12.6 points and shooting 39.9%. The Lakers lost twice at Minnesota last season, breaking a string of 11 consecutive victories at Target Center.