Kobe Bryant and Elvin Hayes both ensured longevity during their playing careers
Each time Kobe Bryant moves up on the NBA's all-time scoring list, the aftermath has proven pretty routine.
Bryant expresses indifference to his ranking in total points, compliments each player he surpasses and emphasizes his desire to pursue the 11 championships Celtics Hall of Fame center Bill Russell won. When Bryant surpassed Elvin Hayes for seventh place on the NBA's all-time list after making a running bank shot with 5:56 remaining in the Lakers' 90-87 victory Sunday over Oklahoma City, Bryant simply said this about the milestone to the Daily News' Elliott Teaford: "Cool. Just keep on rolling, I guess."
Bryant clearly has been through this routine before, already eclipsing John Havlicek, Dominique Wilkins, Oscar Robertson and Hakeem Olajuwon this season alone on the all-time scoring list. Bryant, at 27,320 points, should soon surpass Moses Malone for sixth place (27,409) within the next three to four games, assuming Bryant maintains his 25.1-point average. And with each milestone, it sparks conversation on where Bryant will ultimately finish on the scoring list and what each player he surpassed meant to him in his overall study of the game.
Bryant shared that insight to Teaford, remarking he picked up on the "Big E's" fallaway jumpers, a move Bryant actually used to give the Lakers their final points. In an isolated set on the far wing, Bryant posted up on Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha, moved out into triple-threat position, swung the ball left, dribbled in, posted up and then turned around for a 16-footer. ESPN Los Angeles' Andy Kamenetzky also noted parallels in which both Bryant and Hayes experienced contentious relationships at some point with the front office, coaches and teammates. And what I also found interesting was both players' ability to ensure longevity in their careers.
Hayes played at least 80 games in every season of his career, which included stops with the San Diego Rockets (1968-1972), Baltimore and Washington Bullets (1972-81) and the Houston Rockets (1981-84). He never missed more than two games in a single season and sat out only nine contests his entire career. He logged the second-highest minutes ever played (50,000) and finished fourth on the all-time list for games played (1,303), two milestones an NBA.com biography said served as a "tribute to his durability and conditioning."
Bryant, in his 15th season, has logged 39,435 career minutes (26th all-time) in 1,082 games and played in all 82 games in both the 2007-2008 and 2008-09 seasons. Bryant doesn't exactly have the league's iron-man streak (that honor currently belongs to Derek Fisher), but he's stayed in the lineup even when fighting through injuries.
That, of course, has become the inevitable storyline involving Bryant the past two seasons, as he's battled a fractured right index finger, sprained left ankle and a sprained right knee; the latter injury required surgery this off-season, and he's said he has very little cartilage remaining in the knee. Bryant remains reluctant at times to look at all the mileage he's accumulated because it then leads into suggestions that he's too old and no longer has the athleticism that he once displayed.
No doubt, he takes a tactical approach in pacing his body, minimizing on-court conditioning time in practice, taking repeated treatments and adjusting his game. There will also come a point, as Jerry West predicted last year, that age and injuries eventually will catch up to Bryant no matter how hard he fights it.
But that's exactly the point. One only has to rewind to the Lakers' 108-95 victory Friday over the Clippers to see how Bryant is squeezing every ounce of talent and energy he can provide. After hurting the funny bone in his right elbow, Bryant removed himself from the game and spent halftime working on his range of motion. He then returned in the third quarter to score 18 points, using only his right hand when he actually shot the ball. The gasps echoed at Staples Center and the concern over Bryant's injury during the live chat illustrates how fragile the Lakers' chances at three-peating are should Bryant suffer a major injury.
What's sometimes lost in Bryant's ongoing quest to maintain basketball excellence amid his injuries is how he's managed to remain on top and evolve despite all the wear and tear. It's intriguing to wonder how much Bryant can get out of a diminishing shelf life and, in the case of the NBA's all-time scoring list, who else he'll be able to pass. As Bryant goes through that process, however, it's also necessary to look at it out of appreciation that he's made it this far already.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant tries to get a hand in the face of Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant during the first half Sunday. Credit: Mark D. Smith / US Presswire