Misses add up to big part of Kobe's legacy

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The man who made the most field goals in NBA history thought about the fellow Los Angeles Laker who was closing in on the other end of that record: the most misses.

"I think it has a lot to do with his playing style," Lakers Hall of Fame center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar told ESPN.com earlier this week. "He was always a high-volume shooter. But he would have hot streaks that would win the game for you. That's how he played the game."

Abdul-Jabbar was talking, of course, about Kobe Bean Bryant.

On Tuesday, that high-volume shooter who for 19 seasons has played the game that way and only that way made history with 6:22 left in the fourth quarter of a 107-102 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, when he missed a 14-foot fadeaway jumper from the left side.

That miss gave Bryant 13,418 career missed field goals and one more than Boston Celtics legend John Havlicek.

Bryant entered the game 13 missed field goals shy of Havlicek, and now the 36-year-old Bryant stands ahead of him, Elvin Hayes (13,296), Karl Malone (12,682), Abdul-Jabbar (12,470) and Michael Jordan (12,345).

"I think John was a pretty damn good basketball player back in the day," Lakers coach Byron Scott said earlier Tuesday. "All those guys, I think they're Hall of Famers, too, aren't they?"

Yes. And Bryant will join them one day not too far from now.

He scored a game-high 28 points on 10-of-26 shooting against Memphis, which gave him 13,421 misses for his career.

Afterward, Bryant acted surprised when asked about the record. He offered a shrug, a laugh, a smile and an "Oh yeah?"

Of course he knew, right? A player so meticulous would have to know.

"Nah, I don't pay attention to that stuff, man," he said while still smiling.

The record was a product of his longevity or indicative of his style. Or both. Or more.

"Well, I'm a shooting guard that's played 19 years," Bryant said with a shrug, a smile and an emphasis on the word "shooting."

"Like I said, 'shooting' guard, 19th year," he added later.

All those misses -- surely he wishes he could have some of them back.

"Yeah, all the ones where I've had to try to bail the team out at the end of the shot clock," he said, half-joking, it seemed. "Jesus Christ. It annoys the crap out of me [and] kills my FG percentage."

Bryant entered the game having missed a shot about once every 3 minutes, 25 seconds. That's the sixth-fastest rate since the merger. (Carmelo Anthony entered Tuesday missing about every 3 minutes, 24 seconds. Michael Jordan missed about every 3 minutes, 19 seconds. Allen Iverson missed about every 3 minutes, 17 seconds, same as Dominque Wilkins, and Freeman Williams topped them all by missing a shot about every 2 minutes, 57 seconds.)

It seemed oddly fitting, in a way, that Bryant set the mark in Memphis, where in December 2013 he suffered the fractured left knee that ended his season after just six games. That injury came after a torn Achilles the season before. Both injuries raised doubt about his durability, yet Bryant was back on the court where his 2013-14 campaign ended, firing away, as he always has.

Scott wasn't all that interested in talking about Bryant's dubious record when asked at the team's shootaround, and he cut off a reporter during a question about it.

"I don't care about that crap, and I'm sure he doesn't either," Scott said. "I don't mean to cut you off, but to me it speaks of his aggressiveness and his longevity."

Aggressiveness is one way to put it.

After all, here was a player long criticized for shooting too much, a player who has missed at least 20 shots in 44 games, the fourth most such games in NBA history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. (Havlicek had 25 such games in his career, good for 10th all-time.)

"It's almost damned if you do, damned if you don't. The games that he don't take shots, people ask why didn't he take more shots," Scott said. "He can't win either way, which is unbelievable to me for a guy who gives it everything he's got every single time he's on the floor.

"It's unfortunate because he is one of the greatest competitors that we've seen in a long time. I take all that stuff with a grain of salt, and I'm sure he does, too, because the bottom line to him is championships."

Bryant, a five-time champion, has, of course, heard the criticisms about his shooting. It would be impossible to ignore them.

"I remember when I was a kid and I watched Michael [Jordan] shoot 49 times in an NBA Finals game," Bryant said. "Can you imagine if I did that -- and lost? Puts things in perspective."

Bryant did shoot 37 times in a recent loss, after which, amid critical questions, he used the word "relentless" several times and talked about "not being afraid to fail" just as much. With the record he set Tuesday, would there ultimately be traces of that idea? He paused.

"Yeah, I guess," Bryant said. "You've got to step up and play, man. You can't worry about criticism. You can't worry about failure. You really can't worry about that stuff.

"You've got to go out and figure that out and play and do the best you can, and whatever happens, happens. You can't be held captive by the fear of failure or the fear of what people may say."

Has he ever been afraid in a game?


Not even for one moment?


Another reporter started to ask a question, and Bryant cut him off and turned back.

"And I don't mean to sound cavalier when I say that, but never," Bryant said. "It's basketball. I've practiced and practiced and played so many times. There's nothing truly to be afraid of, when you think about it."

There are times when the stakes are high, but he said those moments have never gotten to him, either.

"No, because I've failed before, and I woke up the next morning, and I'm OK," he said. "People say bad things about you in the paper on Monday, and then on Wednesday, you're the greatest thing since sliced bread. I've seen that cycle, so why would I be nervous about it happening?"

Everything Bryant is saying sounds like it's straight out of that Jordan commercial from the late 1990s, when Jordan walks into an arena and says in a voiceover, "I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

Bryant perked up at the mention.

"Weiden & Kennedy," Bryant said, naming the agency behind the campaign. "But yeah, philosophically, it's exactly the same thing. I grew up watching that stuff, and here I am. His approach to things has been inspirational to a kid growing up watching him."

A bigger question: How long will Bryant hold the record?

In fact, an argument could be made that it might never be broken.

Just consider the longevity required: Bryant is his 19th NBA season. That's a career nearly four times longer than the average NBA lifespan, often pegged at 4.8 years.

In general, almost nobody started as young, played as many minutes, lasted as long or missed as often. Bryant is an all-time leader in every one of those categories. It is tough to imagine the candidate who'd threaten this record.

But beyond that, the game has also changed, and for that, consider the ending of Game 1 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons.

Cavaliers star LeBron James drove into the lane and passed to a wide open Donyell Marshall in the right corner for a potential, game-tying 3-pointer with 5.9 seconds left rather than taking the shot himself.

Marshall missed, the Pistons won and James was bombarded with criticism after, which essentially stated that Bryant and Jordan -- two old-school, hero-ball gunners -- never would've passed in that situation, that if he were a real winner, a true champion like them, then he would have had the chutzpah to take that shot with the game on the line.

"I go for the winning play," the then-22-year-old James said after. "If two guys come at you, and your teammate is open, then give it up. Simple as that."

Although that ideology ran counter to culturally accepted notions instilled by numerous game-winners from Jordan and Bryant, it represented an idea that would take hold in coming years, especially during the analytics movement, when the game was dissected like never before.

The winning play is the smartest play, even if it isn't the gutsiest play. The quality of shots is as important -- if not more important -- than the quantity. Efficiency is the emphasis, the measuring stick for possessions, players and teams.

The end result is basketball is being played smarter, more efficiently and more selflessly than at any point in the game's history. For proof, rewatch how the San Antonio Spurs surgically dismantled James and the Miami Heat in the 2014 Finals with precision passing that led to numerous wide-open shots, such as Marshall's.

There are still stars who fill up the stat sheet, but hero-ball gunners who are counted on to take a ton of shots, especially the final shot, no matter whether double- or triple-teamed, are few and fewer. In fact, Scott recently called Kobe Bean Bryant "the last of a dying breed."

Indeed, the last -- in so many ways.