It Was, Dare It Be Said, Jordanesque
Really, what's the big deal?
If the Mavericks had just held up their end and stayed in that game Dec. 20, Kobe Bryant, who had 62 after three quarters, would have played in the fourth, so Sunday might have been only his second 80-point night of the season.
Of course, if he was really feeling it that night, he might have gotten 100. On the other hand, there's a lot of time left this season, not to mention in his career.
This is the stuff of legends and not a second too soon for the NBA, which has been in relative eclipse since the one and only (at least until recently) Michael Jordan left the Bulls in 1998.
Bryant led "SportsCenter" Monday morning, ahead of the NFL's conference championships, its second-biggest day of the year. "A gi-normous night for the NFL," said Stuart Scott, "but the night belonged to Kobe."
They may still be cleaning up the tickertape in the league office, but a lot of nights have belonged to Kobe lately. We're not completely off the map, but you could count the NBA players who were this dominant on one hand, while wearing a mitten.
Only Wilt Chamberlain scored more points in a game, not that there's any comparison between them.
Chamberlain was a 7-foot-1 center who played in a higher-scoring era, although he was so far ahead of it, he was like a different species. When Wilt arrived in 1959, there were three players over 6-10 — Ray Felix of New York, Walter Dukes of Detroit and Charlie Share of St. Louis. Bill Russell, who was listed at 6-10, was really 6-9, weighed 225 pounds and would be small for a power forward in today's game.
Jordan arrived in 1984 with his mind-blowing game and proved himself to be without peer, at least until the last few weeks. There have been fanciful comparisons of Jordan and Bryant for years, but, assuming Kobe doesn't do one of his 180s, it's finally legitimate.
Jordan scored more points (30.1 a game for his career to 23.2), shot better (49.7% to 45.2%), averaged more assists (5.3 to 4.4), defended better and, in the big one, won more titles (6-3).
However, if Jordan had been more efficient, sheer unadulterated greatness might be in question. No one who ever played may have been able to match Kobe's top end.
"You know those steel cage matches in wrestling?" said TNT's Doug Collins, who coached Jordan for two seasons in Chicago and two more in Washington, as Michael's personal choice.
"I would love to see Michael at 27, Kobe at 27, lock them in a gym and see who comes out. And you know one thing, the other one will be dead on the court.
"Kobe is the best player in the game right now. People don't want to recognize that because of the things that happened that caused people not to like him. …
"Kobe at 27 has the worst talent around him he has ever had. When Michael was 27, he had the best talent around him he ever had. It's as if their careers flip-flopped."
At 27, Jordan hadn't won a title and had learned his limits the hard way, but with Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant emerging, was surrounded by the best talent he'd play with.
Bryant won three titles with Shaquille O'Neal by 24, but now, at 27, is learning the hard way how far he can carry the Lakers by himself.
Bryant is every bit as ferocious as Jordan and works even harder at his craft (Jordan got more serious as he got older; Bryant was born serious).
Of course, Kobe is doing it his way, with his impossible, long-range, covered, falling-backward, leaning-in, off-balance, no-no-no-nice shot repertoire.
"I've always said Michael is the most fundamentally sound player I'd ever seen," Collins said. "Now when you throw in that spectacular physical talent, you've really got something…. If this was like gymnastics with degree of difficulty, Kobe's shots wouldn't just count two points."
Mr. Collins I COMPLETELY agree with the last part. I have always said Kobe has the most beautifull looking stroke I have ever seen. I mean his jumper is SPECTECULAR.