Bryant was able to one-up O’Neal again Monday as he passed his former teammate for fifth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list in the second quarter of the Lakers’ game against thePhiladelphia 76ers.
Bryant hit a long jump shot from the top of the key with 5:07 remaining in the first half to push him past O’Neal. Bryant’s bucket was originally ruled a 3-pointer before being changed to a 2 after the shot was reviewed.
“To say it’s a huge honor would be an understatement,” Bryant said after the game. “It’s a lot of basketball. I’ve been very, very fortunate to have such a good career.”
Bryant finished the night with 28 points as the Lakers lost 95-90.
Bryant was obviously more disappointed in the loss than satisfied from passing O’Neal. The Lakers are 14-11 on the season and just 3-9 on the road. They hardly have the look of a championship favorite and at this point in Bryant’s career; all he plays for is the chance to lift the Larry O’Brien Trophy in celebration as the last team standing at the end of the season.
“I just want No. 6, man,” Bryant said, referring to his championship count, when asked where he wanted to finish on the all-time scoring list when he retires. “I’m not asking for too much, man. Just give me a sixth ring, damn it.”
While Bryant and O’Neal had their disagreements over the years, the big man was happy for his former playing partner.
“I want to personally congratulate Kobe on being the greatest Laker ever,” O’Neal told ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith shortly after Bryant passed his mark. “His accomplishment is great and well deserved, and I’m really proud of him. He told me when he was 18 years old that he’d go down as the greatest Laker ever, and one of the greatest players of all time. And he wasn’t lying.
“I’m a little jealous of him because I was never able to escape the injury bug in my career, while he’s never really been injured at all. But all of that is a testament to his hard work and dedication. I’m proud of him. I’m happy for him. And, most of all, I want to thank him for being a part of the greatest 1-2 punch ever created, never to be duplicated.”
Bryant was touched by O’Neal’s remarks.
“I appreciate it,” Bryant said. “I’m sure Shaq and I will connect at some point and revisit history. But, it’s fun. We had some good times, man. We had some good times. So thank you is what I have to say (to O’Neal).”
While Bryant has passed the likes of Jerry West, Allen Iverson, Charles Barkley and Larry Bird on the all-time scoring list in recent seasons, passing O’Neal meant more to him.
“Yes (it’s more significant), because of our history,” Bryant said. “The battles that we’ve been in, the playoff battles and kind of the duo that we’ve been able to form and the consecutive championships makes it a little bit more significant.”
O’Neal retired this past offseason after scoring 28,596 points in a 19-year career with Orlando, Miami, Phoenix, Cleveland, Boston and the Lakers. Bryant, a 16-year veteran, now trails only Wilt Chamberlain (31,419 points), Michael Jordan (32,292 points), Karl Malone(36,928 points) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387 points).
“It’s a tremendous honor,” Bryant said. “There’s a lot of work that you put in to get to this point. To be in (the top) five category with them, it’s special.”
Bryant and O’Neal won three championships together and reached the Finals four times in the nine seasons they spent as Lakers teammates (1996-2004).
Bryant, 33, entered Monday leading the league in scoring with a 29.4 points per game average and already has two scoring titles under his belt. His 25.4 points per game career average also eclipses O’Neal’s career mark of 23.7 points per game.
Next up for Bryant is Chamberlain, a fellow Philadelphia native.
Bryant and Chamberlain have already been linked through their penchant for points in the past, as Bryant broke Chamberlain’s Pennsylvania high school scoring record by finishing with 2,883 points to Chamberlain’s 2,252. Bryant’s 81-point game on Jan. 22, 2006 also happens to be the second-highest single scoring game in league history, trailing only Chamberlain’s 100 scored on March 2, 1962.
“It’s a lot of points. It’s a lot of points,” Bryant said, looking back on Chamberlain’s feat as the 50th anniversary of The Big Dipper’s historic game approaches next month. “I think it was just one of those nights for both of us where there was really no explanation for it. You just kind of get into one of those zones and one of those moments and things happen. … I was doing mine on jump shots, though. I didn’t have to bang with too many guys down low. I was just catching and shooting.”
While it took more than 40 years for another player to score 80 points or more after Chamberlain scored 100, Bryant said his and Chamberlain’s scoring totals are achievable.
“I believe so,” Bryant said when asked if any player would ever join him and Chamberlain with a matching single-game scoring outburst. “One day it will happen.”
After the game Monday, Bryant visited with Harvey Pollack, the long-time Sixers statistical guru. Pollack is the guy who wrote “100” on a sheet of paper and handed it to Chamberlain to hold when he posed for the famous photo following his historic game back in 1962.
Lakers coach Mike Brown thinks Bryant could land at the top by the time he calls it a career.
“It might be tough for him to pass Kareem, but he should get close,” Brown said after the Lakers’ shoot around Monday. “He should catch Malone.”