Bryant, who leads all active players in career scoring, sits three spots—and 6,687 points—behind Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA's all-time leader in the category. For the 35-year-old to even think about sniffing the 19-time All-Star's mark, Bryant will have to first fix a body that's apparently failing him.
"Kobe is very dedicated and has worked on his body,” Abdul-Jabbar said, via Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News. “But he’s having major failures and not just minor stuff. Spontaneously breaking a bone is not a good sign."
Bryant's 2013-14 campaign consisted of just six appearances. A torn Achilles kept him off the floor until early December and a left knee fracture killed his comeback only six games later.
The Lakers did grant the five-time champion a two-year, $48.5 million contract extension before his initial return, meaning he's almost assuredly at least two seasons away from retirement.
Assuming he plays all 82 games in each of those campaigns and then walks away for good, he would need to average almost 40.8 points a night to match Abdul-Jabbar's scoring total. Bryant has never scored more than 35.4 points per game (2005-06) and hasn't averaged more than 28.3 since 2006-07.
In other words, Abdul-Jabbar has no reason to sweat. And he knows it.
"It’s going to be tough. The problem for him is if he’s going to break the record, he would have be the focus of the offense," Abdul-Jabbar said, per Medina. "But what does he have to worry about? He can walk away and be satisfied. He has the jewelry and the stats."
Bryant does have rings, but not as many as he'd like. He's still one short of matching Michael Jordan, former Lakers and Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson's first title-producing scoring guard.
That's perhaps why the Mamba is so put off by the idea of L.A. saving its cap space and delaying its rebuilding efforts for another season.
Which active player has the best chance of topping Abdul-Jabbar's 38,387 points?
"Oh, yeah, let's just play next year and let's just suck again. No. Absolutely not,” he said earlier this month, via Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times. “It's my job to go out there on the court and perform, no excuses for it. Right? You've got to get things done. Same thing with the front office. The same expectations they have of me when I perform on the court, it's the same expectations I have for them up there."
Then again, maybe having a patchwork roster around him wouldn't be such a bad thing. Not as far as the career scoring race is concerned, at least.
If Jodie Meeks can have a 42-point eruption surrounded by these players, maybe Bryant has more monstrous nights in his future than we think.
Not enough to catch Abdul-Jabbar, of course.
But I think that's one piece of basketball history Bryant would be willing to live without. Assuming his body doesn't make that decision for him first.
Statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.