Kobe Bryant has always had a chip on his shoulder. Maybe it was coming straight to the NBA from high school. Maybe it was all the immediate expectations. Maybe it was always working to be better than Michael.
Whatever it was, it works.
Tonight, Kobe passed Michael Jordan as the career all-time leading scorer in NBA All-Star Game history. While he might not say it publicly, Kobe loves it. He has made a career of chasing Michael, and this is a small moment for Bryant. He wore jersey No. 10 in the Olympics, Jordan wore nine. He switched his NBA uniform number to 24, and we all know MJ wore sacred No. 23. Tonight is one more record Black Mamba can cross off on his "better than Mike" list.
Believe me, he has a list.
Bryant has been elected to 14 All-Star Games, tying Kevin Garnett for most among active players, with most all time going to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at 19. Kobe has been the pinnacle of consistency in his NBA tenure. During All-Star Games, he takes it up a notch. His fire burns a bit brighter. It's not quite "Playoff Kobe," but it's close.
All-Star Games always start off fun and relaxed. Everyone's dunking, playing zero defense, always on the break. Kobe is the first guy every year to decide the game must be won by his team. Once the other superstars see Kobe putting his cape on, they get into win mode as well.
This year's affair had it all. Dwyane Wade had the All-Star Game's third triple-double. Kevin Durant and LeBron James each dropped 36. Kobe broke Michael's career mark. A plethora of astounding highlights. A three-point victory for Kobe's West squad.
Superstars in the NBA will come and they will go. As Kobe Bryant's career fades into the twilight, let us not take him for granted. He has had a couple of off-court issues, as most of us would certainly have if we were so scrutinized, but his on-court ability is unquestioned. It's always been more than that though, hasn't it?
Kobe has that killer instinct. The inner drive to be the greatest is what makes him a once-in-a-generation player. Enjoy these last moments we have with Mr. Bryant. Before we know it, he will be golfing more than dunking.
As for that list...the only number Kobe cares about now is six.