Kobe Bryant has made a career on acrobatic slams and impossible turnaround jumpers. But on Wednesday Night, all he needed to reach 30,000 points was a simple, fundamental mid-range jump shot.
And when that shot reached the bottom of the net, the one they call Black Mamba further solidified his place in NBA lore.
The basket made Bryant the fifth player ever to reach the 30k scoring mark, joining him in the elite company of Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
And as if it weren't sweet enough, Shaquille O'Neal––Kobe's partner-turned-rival––sits sixth on the all-time list. He's now the highest scoring player in NBA history who isn't part of the 30k club.
But I'm not here tonight to swoon at Kobe's feet. In fact, I'm here to implore all of you not to.
At least not yet.
Thursday morning, there are sure to be stories written and arguments had about Kobe's rightful place in history. Now that he's scored 30,000 points, where does Kobe Bryant rank on the list of all-time greats?
It gives me a headache. When did we, as a sports-watching culture, become so obsessed with premature conclusions? Why do we bother arguing Kobe's legacy before he's done playing––before he's done creating it?
After all, in case you haven't checked, he's been playing at a pretty high level in 2012. He's leading the league in scoring, and doing his best to keep the "disappointing Lakers" from becoming the "catastrophic Lakers." And he's doing a heck of a job.
Kobe's narrative is still being written; he's yet to put a coda on his magnificent career. We don't know if he gets that elusive sixth title; we don't know if he passes Michael Jordan on the scoring list; we don't a lot about the way his career will end.
What he did Wednesday night was grand, but it speaks to a broad body of work. Is his place in history really different than it was two nights ago? Would we think less of him if he finished his career with 29,999 points?
I don't want to sound like a Debbie Downer here. I've been blessed to watch Kobe Bryant his entire career, and as an opposing fan, I know painfully well the breadth of his talent. When it's all said and done, I'd love to have a rational, well-informed discourse with anybody about his place in history.
But tonight, all I can say is that he solidified his spot within a broad realm of players. It's a compliment––just not a histrionic one like you're sure to here from Skip Bayless tomorrow.
So let us resolve to appreciate Kobe's milestone for what it is: Another chapter in a book with no ending. We've loved every chapter we've read thus far––enough so that we know it's one of the best books ever––and we trust that the conclusion will satisfy us.
But we can't make sweeping proclamations about its place in history until we know how it ends.