- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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There are numbers in sports and then there are numbers in sports.
56. Joe DiMaggio.
88. UCLA basketball.
8. Michael Phelps.
18. Jack Nicklaus.
100. Wilt Chamberlain.
511. Cy Young.
38,387. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
(We'll leave 73, 70, 66 and 762 out of the conversation for obvious reasons.)
You don't need me to tell you if we're talking about hits, or gold medals, or majors, or points, or wins, or homeruns. You already know.
Now he owns another.
Bryant reached 25,000 career points on Thursday, a staggering total that just 14 other players have reached in the 63-year history of the NBA, with a free throw in the second quarter against Cleveland.
"That's what I do best," Bryant said on Sunday. "Steve Nash is a great passer, I'm a great scorer. It's what I do."
It's what he does oh so well. With flair and pizzazz. With precision and panache. With first-quarter free throws and fourth-quarter game winners. From darn-near half court against Miami and from literally behind the backboard against Oklahoma City. On the block and on the wing. A pull-up jumper off the glass and a spin move into a finger roll.
While the rest of his peers in the league are racking up followers on Twitter, he is amassing points.
He scores. Always has. Always will.
"I think it just came easiest to me because, at an early age [when I was] five or six years old, I could put it in my left hand, put it in my right and that age, if you can go left against those kids it's like shooting fish in a barrel," Bryant said about his earliest scoring memories.
"I just became more curious about it the better I got at it all the way until now."
"This is a guy that uses the open floor well," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said when asked to sum up Bryant's offensive assault. "He knows how to post up. He drives. He can shoot it -- he increased his shooting range and capabilities over the years. He finds a way to score. It's not the most important thing but he knows it carries a lot of weight. He has the invincibility idea that there's no one out there that can stop him […] he carries that attitude with him."
Pau Gasol also praised Bryant's mentality.
"He's got tremendous will," Gasol said. "Obviously his skill level and athletic level allow him to be so effective with it, but the will that he's got to be able to score and decide games and carry the team offensively is incredible."
Bryant turned 31 years old in August and is playing even better than when he entered the league with springs for legs 14 seasons ago. His 28.8 points per game this season is the fourth-highest scoring output of his career.
"What he's accomplished is hard to put into words," Derek Fisher, who reported to rookie camp with Bryant all the way back in 1996, said. "I think what separates him from just about everybody is that he is one of the few guys who was supposed to do what he's doing. Jerry West [had strong] feelings about what he could accomplish as a player and he's actually done them, accomplished it, maybe even surpassed it, yet he still has room to grow."
While the nets continue to snap for Bryant at the same rate, his game has evolved. He spent part of his offseason working on pivot moves with Hakeem Olajuwon, and the former slam dunk champion only has 26 dunks on the season, one less than Sacramento's Spencer Hawes.
His recent string of injuries may have slowed him down a bit, but they have never stopped him. Bryant credits his health just as much as his step-back jumper or quick first step as the reason he achieved the feat.
"I've been very fortunate not to have to deal with serious injuries and having my career cut short," Bryant said. "I think it's a testament to that."
Bryant became the youngest ever to reach the mark at just 31 years old and 151 days, passing Wilt Chamberlain who did it at the age of 31 years, 186 days.
Chamberlain, No. 4 on the all-time scoring list, is one of the 11 players in the Hall of Fame with 25,000 points. The other three -- Karl Malone, Reggie Miller and Shaquille O'Neal -- aren't eligible yet, but will be first-ballot selections when the time comes.
Meaning, if you stripped Bryant of the titles, awards and All-Star games, he'd still be headed to Springfield on his scoring ability alone.
The 25,000 points club is as elite of a society as there is in sports. Bryant will grow the group to 15. In Major League Baseball, 27 players have 3,000 hits, 25 players have hit 500 homeruns and 24 pitchers have 300 wins. In the NHL, 17 players have scored 600 goals. In the NFL, 15 quarterbacks have thrown for more than 35,000 yards.
There's a chance that Bryant will retire at the head of that society with the most points of all time and surpass Abdul-Jabbar's mark. If he maintains his scoring clip this season, he'll finish 2009-10 with approximately 26,200 points -- about 12,200 behind Kareem. To catch The Captain, he would need to average 25.3 points (his career average) for 483 games. That works out to be six more seasons and would give Bryant 20 years in the league and put off his retirement until 2017 when he'll be 39 years old.
"I don't know how long I'll play," was all Bryant would say when asked if he has run at Abdul-Jabbar in him.
He's been the answer to the questions, "Which player is the best at getting his own shot?" and "Which player would you want taking a shot with the game on the line?" in NBA.com's annual GM Survey for the last five years, or every year since those queries were included in the piece.
Picking the most impressive scoring feat by Bryant is like trying to pick Will Ferrell's funniest skit on Saturday Night Live. There are too many to choose from. His 103 career 40-point games rank him third all-time behind Chamberlain (271) and Michael Jordan (173). His 24 career 50-point games also put him behind only Chamberlain (118) and Jordan (31).
In February of 2003, Bryant scored 40 or more in nine straight games, again putting him third behind Jordan (nine in 1986) and Chamberlain with two streaks of 14 in the 1961-62 season and as well as a run of 10 in '62-63.
He has five 60-point games. He's scored 30 points in a quarter twice. He is tied with Donyell Marshall for the record of 12 3s in a game. If he wins the scoring title this season (he is currently fourth, 1.2 points behind the leader, Carmelo Anthony), it will be his third title. Only Jordan (10), Chamberlain (seven), Allen Iverson (four) and George Gervin (four) have more.
His 25.3 points per game scoring average is only 10th all-time, but if you don't count his first three seasons in the league -- consider it his college adjustment period he missed by coming straight out of high school -- then his career average jumps to 28.19, which would put him third behind only Jordan (30.12) and Chamberlain (30.07).
But one stat stands above the rest today.
25,000. Kobe Bryant.
The Elias Stats Bureau and Mark Simon from ESPN Stats & Info contributed to this report.
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