Last night in Philadelphia Kobe Bryant overcame Shaquille O’Neal on the all-time scoring list. While statistics are useful in determining the impact of a player, the box score is merely quantitative, and it in no way encompasses all the details that determine a player’s greatness.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar holds the top spot on the NBA all-time scoring list, at 38,387 points. Yet, if you wander around the outskirts of the Staples Center, the only Lakers whose silhouettes have been immortalized in bronze are that of Magic Johnson, Jerry West, and Chick Hearn.
Each had an impact on the Lakers organization and its fans, in their own unique way. Johnson dazzled fans with Showtime, brought five championship trophies to the city, and even after the curtain closed on his career, continues to serve the Los Angeles community. West epitomized the spirit of competition, and although he only won a single title as a player, his ingenuity manning the front office brought a total of seven titles. Hearn captivated fans with his voice; the mystique of his color-commentating still resonates with fans, and his patented phrases still being used around the league.
There’s more to gaining the affection of fans than just inflating the stat line.
While the separation between Bryant and O’Neal on the list of the NBA’s all-time scorers is likely to be within close proximity, that is, until Bryant passes up the next person, where they’ll each fall on the spectrum of Laker greats is an entirely different story. Earlier last week Bryant told The OC Register’s Kevin Ding that surpassing O’Neal on the points list was “inevitable.” Bryant surpassing O’Neal as the greatest of Lakers wasn’t just inevitable, it was destined.
There’s a passage in the recently published O’Neal autobiography, Shaq Uncut: My Story, co-written with Jackie MacMullan, which succinctly identifies the biggest difference between the two superstars.
He was so young and so immature in some ways, but I can tell you this: everything Kobe is doing now, he told me all the way back then he was going to do it. We were sitting on the bus once and he told me, “I’m going to be the number one scorer for the Lakers, I’m going to win five or six championships, and I’m going to be the best player in the game.” I was like, “Okay, whatever.”
Bryant cared too much and O’Neal didn’t care enough.
It wasn’t as if Bryant was the second coming of Nostradamus. His predicting that he would become the Lakers number one scorer—a feat he accomplished just a week or so ago in terms of field goals—might’ve been more bravado than tea-leaf reading, but making such a bold statement said more about Bryant’s personality and how it was completely opposite of O’Neal’s.
Next Page: Conflicting Personalities