Grin and Bear It Kobe-Philes

Later in the week when the once upon a time man-child who asked us to be witnesses, when he becomes part of NBA history as the third best scorer in NBA history, destiny will be fulfilled.  It will happen in Brooklyn, or worst case scenario Philadelphia. Once the pomp and circumstance recedes, LeBron James will come full circle in a career that has been dramatic, controversial, exciting, iconic and extraordinary. Only he can say I told you so.

What LeBron James has accomplished in his career is beyond a singular adjective a writer can think of to describe it. When he moves into top-3 scorer of all time he will have cemented his legacy as one of the most versatile and talented players the world has ever seen. A player that is increasingly difficult to describe in one specific way because his achievements touch on the varied: leader, scorer, passer, defender.

As for LeBron the shot maker, consider that the NBA has seen 3,300 players, give or take, in its 60+ year history. Only 7 men have scored over 30,000 points. The math is stunning.  You have a .24% chance of scoring 30,000 points. Of those immortal men of 7, only two, LeBron and Kobe, entered the NBA after American high school.

Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain played in college. Dirk Nowitzki played professionally in Germany before being drafted. LeBron and Kobe were the exceptions to a rule that saw high school players flood the NBA. But only two reached an iconic pinnacle.

Kobe played in the Western Conference for all of his career so it was fitting that he became the 3rd leading scorer in Minneapolis (2014) where the Lakers began their franchise. It was history repeating itself. With similar symmetry, LeBron will become the 3rd leading scorer playing an Eastern Conference team.

LeBron has played in 1,143 Eastern Conference games. If he indeed jumps up to 3rd against Brooklyn, LeBron will have former teammate Kyrie as an opponent, the same Kyrie who couldn’t wait to get away from LeBron, and whose leadership since the LeBron divorce has been spotty. It would be karmic like justice having Kyrie forced to watch what he tossed away.

One of the things that distinguishes LeBron from his peers is his play making.

  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 5,660 assists
  • Karl Malone 5,248 assists
  • Kobe Bryant 6,306 assists
  • Michael Jordan 5,633 assists
  • LeBron James 9,111 assists

LeBron James greatness is anchored in how much he loves to elevate teammates. Despite idolizing Michael Jordan, his game is more a combo Jordan-Magic. He is gifted at floor vision and passing but he can score every which way.

In this his 17th year, when he was supposed to have slowed down, he is leading the league in assists for the first time in his career. He is playing a career low 34 minutes a game. Sure, some numbers are down like field goal percentage, free throw percentage, rebounding. Some of the fall off can be attributed to Anthony Davis, and LeBron’s age. Being dunked on and missing layups at the rim do remind you he’s been around a long, long time.

But the combo of passing and scoring when he is supposed to be at the back end of his career highlights what a freak of nature LeBron James really is. When people are debating who is the MVP of sports: LeBron James or Patrick Mahomes, when Mahomes is 24 years old, that says it all.  The longevity and consistency of his success defines how special LeBron James really is.

I expect Jeanie Buss and her cohorts to anoint LeBron as the greatest ever and I’m sure the Kobe cult will push back while applauding politely for the King. When LeBron came here, he altered the trajectory of Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, and Laker fans, who, for the most part, were lukewarm to James heroics, as if cheering for him meant betraying Kobe. But it is just the opposite. Because Laker fans were up close and personal with Kobe from the time he was 17 years old, they can celebrate this most amazing of all achievements with a different sort of texture and vibe. LeBron has only been here long enough for a cup of coffee. He doesn’t bleed purple and gold like many long tenants of Lakers land. But great talent that reaches its potential for nearly two decades needs more than a wry acknowledgment.

LeBron James is special. And so is history. Both intersect in a couple of days. It’s fitting that the place where Dwyane Wade played the last game of his career is probably where his blood brother LeBron James will be enshirned a titan of the sport. In Brooklyn. It’s a historical moment.

Only two NBA players will have scored more points than LeBron James. And in two years, only two NBA players in history will have assisted on more baskets than LeBron James.