Kobe Bryant Becomes Lakers All-Time Leading Scorer
Kobe Bryant is the greatest scorer in Lakers history.
Not Shaq. Not Magic Johnson, James Worthy or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Not Gail Goodrich, Elgin Baylor or even Mr. Clutch himself, Jerry West, whom Bryant passed with a gutsy end-of-road-trip performance in Memphis.
After 13 days on the road, most of the Lakers looked like they simply wanted to hop on Monday night's charter back to Los Angeles. But with the team down 11 points in the second quarter, Bryant scored the final 13 of the quarter himself to get to 23 points, five shy of West's 25,192.
Then in the third quarter, Bryant exploded through the paint for consecutive slam dunks, the latter a breakaway two-hander that got him to 29 points on the night and 25,193 for his career, surpassing West by a point.
Earlier this season, we had the opportunity to speak with Jerry West himself. Who better, after all, to talk about Kobe than the man who drafted the skinny 17-year-old out of Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia.
Here's a portion of the transcript from our interview with West, which took place at his house in late December:
Mike Trudell: On what West saw in Kobe Bryant during his first workout in Santa Monica as a 17-year old.
Jerry West: It really wasn’t that difficult at all to be honest with you. I think when people see him playing, they want to compliment someone for doing something that was easy to do. He was just incredibly skilled. His determination level was frankly off the charts. His desire to compete was incredible. He was raw … when young players come into the league, I think they look at themselves as having to get out and score a bunch of points to impress people, (but) the greatest players are the best all-around players. We throw the word ‘superstar’ around so loosely. There are very few superstars, and he had the ability to be one. But could he take this enormous skill and harness it into being a player that would help a team win, and win on a high level.
MT: On Bryant's unparalleled will and consistency:
West: He just keeps getting better and better and better. Just watching him play this year, I think this will be his greatest year ever. He will be the most valuable player in the league this year. He will be. His play has been that great. And to watch him do that year after year after year – that’s the thing that the average person does not understand, how difficult it is to prepare yourself to play every night, and knowing that ultimately, you’re going to make a team win. He’s going to make a team win. You take him off that team, they’d still be a good team because they’re talented up front, but they would lose their confidence. He brings confidence to the table through his play and his incredible desire. You don’t have to ask him to compete, and when I watch him play, I say to myself, ‘My God, here’s the second coming of Michael Jordan.’ He’s reached that status as a player.
MT: On how much Kobe's game has developed:
West: I watch him today, and I just marvel at how good he’s gotten, and also how he’s subtlety changed his game. He’s not the player that would run and dunk over people all the time, he’s learned how to finesse the ball in the basket. He’s got a great low post game now. He’s almost an impossible task (to guard). People say, well, that was an unbelievable shot – other people can’t do those things, OK? But for him, it’s not an unbelievable shot, it’s something that’s become commonplace for him, and you expect it from him. He’s just been one of the most remarkable players – I think in overall talent - and again I don’t know how you judge players other than talent - I think he’s probably been the greatest all-around player that the Lakers have ever had. And when I talk about all-around, I’m talking about defense, and his ability to score the ball, his competitiveness and the fact that his teams win. You watch Magic Johnson play, a completely different player. He was incredible and I love Magic, but I think for pure talent and pure ability to go out and dominate a game the way he can dominate on the offensive end, and then to watch him defend – he’s become a very good defender. He’s become a great teammate. This is a long process from the time he was 17-years-old … there is something that some people were born with, and he was born with ‘it.’ How do you describe ‘it’?
MT: On the similarity between West and Kobe in terms of an ability to play both offense and defense.
West: I really don’t reflect a whole lot back on my career, but it was something that I was taught early on in life. My high school coach talked about the importance of being a defensive player. The one thing that Kobe, because he scores so easily and makes shots late in the game, people tend to forget that that’s one of the things that sets him apart because he is an all-around player. But you have to have drive to compete at a high level. I know it probably makes a lot of people in Los Angeles mad that I don’t mention a Lakers player in Michael Jordan’s breath, but it’s impossible to compare players to different players. And the reason I think Michael Jordan is the greatest player that we’ve ever seen – I didn’t say the greatest winner, I didn’t say the greatest leader, but the greatest player we’ve ever seen – (is because) he was Chicago’s best scorer, the league’s best scorer, he was also the best defensive player in the league. And with all due deference to Scottie Pippen – (who) was a terrific defensive player – he wasn’t I don’t think in Michael Jordan’s caliber. I just have so admired players that play at both ends of the court and compete at that level, and like I say, Kobe Bryant is right there with (Jordan) in terms of the way he competes and the way he approaches the game. He’s not going to lose, and his determination has set him apart from players of all generations.