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SECAUCUS, N.J., March 22, 2007 -- By scoring 60 points in a 121-119 win over Memphis on Thursday, Kobe Bryant became the first player since Michael Jordan in April of 1987 to score 50-plus points in three straight games.

At this rate, Bryant has a chance to become the greatest scorer the NBA has ever seen.

Let that marinate for a minute.

The G.O.A.T. of the NBA. Top of the totem pole. Best of the bunch.

Bryant has the opportunity to be better than Wilt with his 50-point single-season average. More accomplished than Kareem and his 38,387 total points. Even more prolific than MJ who dropped 63 points in the playoffs and caused another guy who wasn’t too shabby at scoring himself, Larry Bird, to say it was like playing against James Naismith, er, God, disguised as Michael Jordan.

He entered the league having not one measly collegiate point and could exit with more scoring feats than any player to ever lace them up.

How did it happen? How did a player who scored zero points in his NBA debut and who took 16 games as a pro to reach 80 career points end up scoring 81 in a single game?

How did a skinny guard out of a suburban Philadelphia high school that took 90 games to reach the 30-point plateau, end up scoring 30 points in a single quarter (just short of George Gervin’s record 33) against the Jazz this season?

From 7.6 points per game as a rookie, 15.4 as a sophomore, 19.9 in his third year, to a run of eight straight seasons of 22.5 per or more, Kobe has morphed into the most potent scorer in the league today.

It’s been a long time coming.

From No. 8 to No. 24. From adidas to Nike. From shorn head to mini 'fro back to shorn again.

Buy it now!

Kobe's jersey at the NBA Store

Kobe has been getting buckets.

The 175 points that the 6-6, 220-pound Bryant has scored over his last three games has propelled him past Carmelo Anthony for the league lead in scoring, but this spurt is hardly his first dominant stretch as a net filler.

In the 2002-03 season, while Shaquille O’Neal struggled with injury, Bryant scored 40 or more in nine straight games in February. Only two other players in the history of the league have had comparable 40-point streaks – Jordan with nine in 1986, and Chamberlain with two streaks of 14 in the 1961-62 season and as well as a run of 10 in ’62-63.

You could call all of last season an extended “spurt” as Mamba averaged 35.4 points (the eighth highest scoring average of all time) as he dropped 27 40-plus point games, six 50-plus point games and had he been a composer his 62 points in three quarters would have been his Ride of the Valkyries and the 81-pointer was so beyond the realm of imagination, consider it his Sprach Zarathustra (the theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey).

Bryant has scored 1,920 points this season, giving him 18,786 for his career. He started the season ranked 67th on the all-time list and has leapfrogged to 42nd, passing the likes of Dr. J, Rick Barry, Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas in the process.

If he hits for his season average (30.5 ppg) over the last 13 games this year, he’ll catch Chet Walker, Scottie Pippen (barring a comeback), Dale Ellis and Reggie Theus as well.

If Bryant can hold off Anthony for the scoring title, it will be his second straight, joining him with George Mikan, Neil Johnston, Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar, Bob McAdoo, Gervin, Jordan, Allen Iverson and Tracy McGrady as the only back-to-back scoring champs.

Two scoring titles would still leave him laps behind Jordan (10 titles) and Chamberlain (seven titles), but it would put him right in the mix with the rest of his competition as nobody else other than Gervin and Iverson, owners of four titles a piece, has more than three.

It’s about more than numbers though. The ultimate scorer is the guy who you want to have the ball in the last possession of the game.

The ultimate scorer is the guy that the other team doesn’t want to have the ball. The ultimate scorer is respected by his peers. Ask around the league, “Who is the hardest player to guard?” The answer is inevitably:

“Oh, you mean, besides Kobe?”

The ultimate scorer is the player who can elude a trap, split a double team, handle help-side defense and still get his shot off.

He is versatile, able to pull up for the three (Kobe is tied with Donyell Marshall for the record of 12 threes in a game) or take it to the tin and finish. Oh, and if he’s fouled he better be able to nail those freebies (career .837 shooter from the stripe).

He may never catch Kareem for the all-time lead, but it’s possible. Unlikely, but possible. All he has to do is hit his career average of 24.4 points per game over 70 games for the next 12 seasons to retire a few months shy of his 41st birthday with 39,000-plus in 2019.

He probably won’t retire in the top three in career-scoring average (Jordan – 30.12 ppg, Chamberlain 30.07 ppg, Iverson 28.0 ppg), but if you don’t count his first three seasons in the league – consider it his quasi college adjustment period – then his career average jumps to 28.1 ppg.

Wilt’s 100 points scored in Hershey, Pa. on March 2, 1962 might never be eclipsed, but then again, probably neither will Kobe’s 81 against Toronto on Jan. 22, 2006.

Couple that 81 with his 60 against the Grizzlies, 65 against Portland this season and checking out of the Dallas game up 62-61 on the Mavs last year, and Bryant becomes one of only four players with multiple 60-point games (Wilt – 32, Michael – four, Elgin Baylor – three).

Pile up the evidence - the three seasons with 30-point averages, the 17 career 50-point games, the thousands upon thousands of points.

The title of ultimate scorer might not ever rest upon one sole individual, but Kobe Bryant has assured that his name will be in the conversation.

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