LeBron’s journey to passing Kobe
After Kobe Bryant showed up to watch LeBron James and the Lakers earlier this season, James reflected on the two players’ careers.
“Two guys that came straight out of high school, a lot of pressure put on both of us at such a young age. ... Just use that every single day on trying to be the best in the world. And inspire kids all over the world. We share a lot similarities,” James said.
One of those similarities is in scoring. Entering the 2019-20 season, Bryant and James ranked No. 3 and No. 4 on the NBA's all-time scoring list. On Saturday, James completed what had been a 17-year journey to close the scoring gap between the two players.
After not playing in the Lakers' opener in 1996-97, Kobe Bryant failed to score in his NBA debut against the Timberwolves. He got his first point two nights later.
Dec. 14, 1997
“He’s one of those special talents. Give Kobe a couple more years, he might be The Man of this whole league.”Mavericks forward Dennis Scott, after Kobe's first 30-point game
Kobe was voted in as an All-Star starter before he was a Lakers starter. He and LeBron are among the leaders for most All-Star selections.
Kobe's first big contract extension made his salary the Lakers' second highest, behind that of Shaquille O'Neal. Kobe would go on to make $328.2 million in his career.
In his fifth season in the league, Kobe notched his first 50-point game, dropping 51 on the Warriors. He would go on to score at least 50 another 24 times in his career.
While LeBron was celebrating his Sweet 16, Kobe was closing out 2000 by dropping 17 on the Clippers.
Kobe dropped 31 in Game 2 of the Finals, but those don't count toward his place on the all-time scoring list. The NBA keeps regular-season and postseason points separate.
Feb. 18, 2002
“There are only four or five NBA players that I wouldn’t trade to get him right now.”Danny Ainge on a 17-year-old LeBron (Source: Sports Illustrated)
LeBron never got to face Michael Jordan on the court, but Kobe did, posting 55 points in their final meeting.
Kobe ditched Adidas for Nike in 2003, landing a four-year, $40 million contract. A month later, LeBron joined Kobe at Nike. LeBron's deal? Seven years, $90 million.
With a baseline jumper, LeBron was officially on the NBA scoreboard. He would finish with 25 points in his debut, a number Kobe didn't hit in a game until his second season.
LeBron becomes the first 18-year-old to score 30 in a game, eclipsing Kobe's old mark as the youngest player with a 30-point game by more than 100 days.
Kobe got the win in his first game against LeBron but was outscored 16-10.
While Allen Iverson won MVP, both LeBron and Kobe (pictured here with Kevin Garnett) made their mark in their first All-Star meeting. Kobe had a team-high seven assists, and LeBron led his team with eight rebounds.
In a loss to the Raptors, a 20-year-old LeBron lit up the scoreboard with 56 points, becoming the youngest player in NBA history to record a 50-point game.
Dec. 20, 2005
“I was very angry. I felt like I wanted to come out and send a message, that we’re going to dominate at home. We’re going to hit you, we’re going to bring it to you. I wanted to send that message.”Kobe after outscoring the Mavs 62-61 through three quarters
Before LeBron came along, Kobe held most of the "youngest to" milestones for scoring. But LeBron took little time to wipe those away, reaching 5,000 points less than a month after turning 21.
After posting the second-highest scoring game in NBA history, Kobe was asked if he ever thought that was possible. "Not even in my dreams," he said. "That was something that just happened. It's tough to explain. ... It turned into something special. To sit here and say I grasp what happened, that would be lying."
Career high and Lakers record
Kobe won the 2006 scoring title with what was at the time the second-highest scoring average since the ABA-NBA merger.
When Kobe got to 20,000 points, he was the youngest player ever to reach that milestone -- until LeBron got there six years later.
LeBron and Kobe met head-to-head 22 times and this was the only time either of them scored at least 40 points against the other, with LeBron finishing with 41 in a Cavs win.
March 21, 2008
“It’s one of the best experiences I’ve had. To be the all-time leader is something that I never dreamed of. But now that it’s here, it’s an unbelievable feeling.”LeBron after passing Brad Daugherty to become the Cavaliers' all-time leading scorer
LeBron and Kobe were never NBA teammates, but they led Team USA to gold in Beijing, combining for 34 points in the gold medal game.
After scoring 49 points in Phoenix, Kobe had a 10,969-point lead over LeBron, the largest gap between the two players in their careers.
May 4, 2009
“I’m 24 years old and I’m receiving this award. I never thought it would happen this fast. I never dreamed about being MVP, but if I said I didn’t enjoy this award, I’d be lying.”LeBron on winning his first MVP award
Kobe outscored LeBron 35-26 in their first Christmas Day meeting, but the Cavs blew out the Lakers, leading fans at Staples Center to toss their commemorative foam fingers onto the court.
Jan. 21, 2010
"No. Not at all."Kobe when asked if he saw LeBron as a rival, after reaching 25,000 career points in a loss to the Cavs
Kobe passed Jerry West to become the Lakers' all-time leading scorer. He doesn't have to worry about LeBron breaking that mark.
When LeBron took his talents to South Beach, he also revived the flames of the Lakers-Heat rivalry that were stoked when Kobe and Shaq split six years earlier.
LeBron scored just eight points in a Game 4 loss to the Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals, a rare performance of single-digit scoring for him.
Kobe joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain in the 30,000-point club. Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron would soon follow.
Jan. 16, 2013
“That’s a big-time moment. He’s a special guy. He’s a special player. He’s a once-in-a-generational type of player.”Heat coach Erik Spoelstra after LeBron reached 20,000 career points
LeBron was on his way to winning his second MVP in a row (and fourth overall), but the 2013 All-Star Game was Kobe's showcase, as the Black Mamba stuffed the King twice late to lift the West to a victory.
April 12, 2013
“He’s the greatest competitor, and he’s been that all season long, all through his career.”Lakers teammate Pau Gasol after Kobe tore his Achilles tendon but stayed in the game to make two free throws
LeBron dropped 61 on the Bobcats while wearing a mask to protect a broken nose. "The man above has given me some unbelievable abilities to play the game of basketball," LeBron said. "I just try to take advantage of it every night. I got the trust of my teammates and my coaching staff to go in there and let it go."
Career high and Heat record
While Kobe and LeBron have both passed M.J. on the career points list, Jordan stands alone when it comes to points per game.
In his second season back in Cleveland, LeBron joined Kobe -- and 19 other players -- in the 25,000-point club. Again, LeBron surpassed Kobe as the youngest to reach the milestone.
Kobe edged LeBron by two points in their final head-to-head meeting, but it is LeBron who has the edge in career 2-pointers made.
Kobe eventually fell short of his quest to become the NBA's all-time leading scorer, but no player scored more points in his final game than the 60 Kobe dropped on the Jazz in 2016.
Kobe and LeBron never met in the NBA Finals, but they combined to play in 12 straight from 2007 to 2018, with LeBron averaging a triple-double in the 2017 Finals.
Nov. 3, 2017
“As I’ve grown as a basketball player. I’m staying disciplined with my shot, disciplined with my balance, and every shot that I took it feels like it was going in.”LeBron after scoring 57 against the Wizards to reach 29,000 career points
By the time LeBron got to 30,000 points, he had scored 22,102 as a Cavalier. He would add 1,017 more before again leaving Cleveland that summer.
Kobe spent all 20 of his NBA seasons wearing a Lakers jersey. LeBron finally put his on in his 16th season, and he dropped 26 points in his Lakers debut.
March 6, 2019
“I watched him from afar, wanted to be like M.J., wanted to shoot fadeaways like M.J., wanted to stick my tongue out on dunks like M.J., wanted to wear my sneakers like M.J. I wanted kids to look up to me at some point like M.J., and it’s crazy, to be honest.”LeBron on passing M.J. on the career points list
As the Lakers prepared to face the Philadelphia 76ers, LeBron had nearly closed the gap on Kobe, needing just 18 more points to move into third place on the all-time scoring list.
In the third quarter against the Sixers, the greatest interior scorer of his era drove into the paint and made history with a clean layup on the right side of the hoop. "To be linked with the greats, that means a lot to me," LeBron said days before passing Kobe. "Because I grew up idolizing Michael [Jordan] and idolizing Kobe, gaining inspiration from their craft."
Next up: Karl Malone, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
LeBron is averaging 25.2 points per game this season. If he keeps that up, he could pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA's all-time leading scorer as early as the 2021-22 campaign.
Animations and Illustrations by Walker TKL
Photographs from Getty Images