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Kareem and the Black Mamba’s Return

Sean Begin
On Saturday, reports from Yahoo! Sport and ESPN, among others, were published indicating that Kobe Bryant returned to the Lakers’ practice court for the first time since rupturing his Achilles tendon almost seven months ago.
When I heard this, I became unreasonably excited.

It’s not like Kobe is coming back tomorrow. It’s not even like he’ll be back in a couple weeks. According to ESPN’s report, sources say Bryant still has “a ways to go” before even considering a return date.

But the thought that the Black Mamba has returned to practicing drills with his teammates is incredibly exciting. I don’t really have any investment in a successful Lakers season. Being a Celtics fan, I have a natural inclination to enjoy seeing the Lakers fail.
But Kobe back on the court just seems right. I can’t remember watching a basketball season without him. Plus, it’s still not out of the question that Kobe can make a run for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s scoring title.
And really that’s what has me most excited.

Kobe is 6,770 points behind Kareem’s record. Kareem retired at the age of 42 after 20 NBA seasons. Kobe is 35 and this season would be his 17th in the Association. If Bryant were to match Kareem’s total career years, he’d have to average 2,257 points per season (including this injury shortened one) to beat Kareem. That’s pretty much impossible, since Kobe’s average points per year is 1,860. However, if Kobe plays until he’s 42 as well, that would give him seven more seasons to catch Kareem, including this 2013-14 season. That’s an average of 967 points per year, well below Bryant’s average.

Kobe has said before he’s got more in the tank. Does that mean seven years’ worth of play time? Probably not. But if Kobe played even four more seasons in the NBA, a per year average that’s still less than his career. (Of course, this assumes he’d have played a full season this year.) Regardless of how long Kobe will play, the fact remains that the record is within his site. Bryant has said before the scoring title isn’t as important as a sixth title. He would rather match Michael Jordan than beat Kareem.
But with the Lakers having no contracts except Steve Nash on the books for 2014, it’s still uncertain if the team can compete for championships in Kobe’s twilight years. Speculation is the Lakers want to make a push for LeBron James, who becomes a free agent once again after this season.

But what if the Lakers don’t sign LeBron? In the past, the Lakers not signing the big free agent they wanted is akin to the Yankees missing out on one. But with Dwight Howard rejecting a max offer in favor of Houston, it’s not inconceivable LeBron says no to LA. And where would that leave Kobe? Still a team short of a championship with no obstacles in his way to take 40-50 shots a game in order to chase down Kareem. And a Kobe shooting wildly and scoring 40 a night would be a very entertaining sight to watch.