Wednesday, December 17, 2014

KOBE BRYANT: His Quest for Basketball Immortality

Basketball was and still is a big part of my life – my youth, my early hopes, and my dreams. Not only did I follow and watch the games of the best players both in the Philippines, and the United States, I actually grew up playing and loving it.

Having “carried the ball” for my high school team in Rosales, Pangasinan, Philippines as its team captain, I also made the Pangasinan Provincial Team that competed and won the then Central Luzon Athletic Association (CLAA) Regional Basketball Championships.

When I came to the United States as an AFS International Scholar, I was recruited to try out for the Huntington Beach High School Varsity Team in California. Then Coach Elmer Combs told me that I made the team but I had to attend all the practices including the entire Christmas holidays.

Excited to be the smallest (5’8”) but fastest player in the Varsity team, I discussed my situation with my foster parents and the AFS Committee who were hosting my stay in America. Unfortunately, plans had already been made for me during the holidays, and that I had responsibilities to fulfill as “Ambassador of Goodwill”.

My first exposure to NBA Basketball was attending a Lakers game that featured Jerry West as the star. From then on until today, I continued to root, cheer, and even bet for the Lakers.

Watching Larry Bird’s Indiana team battle Magic Johnson’s Michigan in the NCAA Finals that the latter won, I was happiest to find out later that Magic was joining the Lakers and Kareem Abdul Jabbar.  The “Showtime” Era began and continued for many years as Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics renew their battles against Magic and the Lakers. The recruitment of James Worthy by the Lakers reinforced the Lakers’ dominance during the period. 

NBA Basketball became a major attraction as television rights proved to be very profitable for all parties – the owners, the players, the networks, and even advertisers. Fans enjoyed and grew exponentially.

It also brought about the successful internationalization of the sport as the NBA’s “Dream Team” led by Magic, Bird, and Jordan competed for The US at the International Olympics. As expected, the team won the Gold Medal. More importantly, the players also won the hearts and minds of the international community.

Most of the basketball world considers Michael Jordan as the greatest player ever! That’s why when Laker Kobe Bryant surpassed him in the All-Time NBA Scoring List a few days ago, one cannot help but admire the amazing feat of Kobe. Indeed, for him to have made more points than the greatest player is greatness in itself.

But Kobe is not just about beating Michael Jordan as a scorer like when he scored 81 points which Jordan never did. He also established (or tied) NBA records that remain unbroken today.  Among them are:***

    Most All-Star Game MVP awards won, career: 4 (tied with Bob Pettit)
    Most All-Star Game points scored, career: 271
    Most All-Star Game field goals made, career: 111
    Most offensive rebounds in an All-Star Game: 10
    Most All-NBA Total Selections won, career: 16
    Most All-NBA First Team honors won, career: 11 (tied with Karl Malone)
    Most All-Defensive First Team honors won, career: 9 (tied with Michael Jordan, Gary Payton, and Kevin Garnett)
    Only player in NBA history with more than 30,000 points and 6,000 assists; and
    Most three-point field goals made, one game: 12

He was the youngest player to score: 24,000 points: (31 years, 76 days); 25,000 points: (31 years, 151 days); 26,000 points: (32 years, 80 days); 27,000 points: (32 years, 160 days); 28,000 points: (33 years, 131 days); 29,000 points: (33 years, 199 days); 30,000 points: (34 years, 104 days); 31,000 points: (34 years, 185 days); and 32,000 points: (36 years, 87 days).

He was also the youngest player: to be named to the NBA All-Rookie Team: (1996–97); to be named to the NBA All-Defensive Team: (1999–00); to start a game: (18 years, 158 days);; to win the NBA Slam Dunk Championship: (18 years, 169 days); and to start an All-Star game: (19 years, 169 days).

Of course, NBA Records show that Kobe Bryant is more known for the following:

    5-time NBA champion: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009, 2010
    7 NBA Finals appearances: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2010[
    2-time NBA Finals MVP: 2009, 2010
    NBA Most Valuable Player: 2008
    2-time scoring champion: 2006, 2007
    16-time NBA All-Star: 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014
    15 consecutive selections, 13 consecutive appearances (No All-Star game in 1999 due to a league-wide lockout)
    Missing the 2010 and 2014 games due to injury
    4-time NBA All-Star Game MVP: 2002, 2007, 2009, 2011 (shared the 2009 award with Shaquille O'Neal)
    15-time All-NBA Team selection:
    First team: 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013
    Second team: 2000, 2001
    Third team: 1999, 2005
    12-time All-Defensive Team selection:
    First team: 2000, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011
    Second team: 2001, 2002, 2012
    NBA All-Rookie Team selection:
    Second team: 1997
    NBA Slam Dunk Contest champion: 1997
    17-time Player of the Month: December 2000, November 2001, January 2003, March 2004, January 2006, April 2006, December 2006, March 2007, April 2007, February 2008, April 2008, December 2008, January 2009, December 2009, March 2011, December/January 2012, February 2013

Basketball is a team sport. It takes effective and efficient management and coaching to get several playing egos to work as a team. It takes strategy and tactics to plan and execute the plays. It takes resources and organization to recruit the right talents to create a winning team. Indeed, it is a sport that requires both physical and mental toughness!

Credit the LA Laker Team for having developed a successful franchise. But it is also lucky to have recruited, helped develop, and maintained a player with exceptional talents like Kobe Bryant who thrived and rose above all else.

If Kobe gets to play 2-3 years more, based on his record and barring no injuries, he could most likely catch up to and surpass Karl Malone's and possibly Kareem Abdul Jabbar's records.
For this year, winning the scoring title is a doable goal. Regardless, his quest for basketball immortality is already achieved.

***(Data from References of Wikipedia)

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