With Kobe Bryant zooming on the highway of greatness and Michael Jordan only a car length ahead, one would expect the sole focus of no.24 to be on passing no. 23.
Somehow, he seemed bigger than that on Tuesday night.
"It's a great honor, man. I've learned so much (from him)," Bryant said about Jordan before pointing out that he also learned from playing against great players like Clyde Drexler, John Stockton and Gary Payton.
"We actually communicate pretty often," Bryant responded when asked if he expected Jordan to contact him after Bryant inevitably passed no. 23 on the all-time scoring list. "I mean, it's coming, right? It's not like [the record is] going to happen or not sort of thing. I just take it all in stride."
Bryant knows he'll get 31 more points and pass Jordan. He may even take two games to get there, but he knows he will pass the mark.
Instead of making the lead up to Jordan focus on passing the Chicago Bulls' legend, Bryant opted to remind the world about the human side of the soon-to-be third-greatest scorer of all time.
Bryant led teammates in wearing t-shirts that read "I can't breathe" in the Lakers' win over the Sacramento Kings, as Bryant's stride has always been more socially conscious. Several NBA players including LeBron James and Derrick Rose had previously worn similar t-shirts for warm ups.
Bryant and the Lakers provided the first example of a full team (with the exception of Robert Sacre)* wearing the shirts that bring attention to a larger "legal system" issue, as Bryant earlier termed it. The words "I can't breathe" come from Eric Garner, who died due to the use of an illegal choke hold placed on him by police officers in Staten Island, New York.
The death was caught on video and is easily searchable online. In the video, Garner is heard saying, "I can't breathe" repeatedly. The true tragedy of the video is that the man was not acting violently, carrying a weapon or even causing a notable disturbance when police officers decide to climb on top of him and end his life. Although the video caused tremendous uproar when it initially surfaced, the latest demonstrations were not direct reactions to the video itself.
Instead, the latest demonstrations were a reaction to the decision not to indict any police officers in the face of clear video evidence that showed the death of non-violent unarmed man at the hands of police officers. Demonstrations erupted in various forms nationwide in reaction to the verdict.
Wearing a t-shirt that reads "I can't breathe" is the NBA's version of non-violent protest on the subject.
"I didn't have to research and study too much to look at the video--pretty self-explanatory," Bryant said late Tuesday night.
Instead of being locked in on passing Jordan, Bryant decided to deflect some of his added national attention to support a social cause. In many ways, this was exactly how Bryant was different than Jordan, who was known for being largely inactive in a social capacity.
If meeting on the all-time scoring list is about making comparisons, one cannot help but find that the "I can't breathe" t-shirt fits tighter on Bryant than it would ever have on Jordan, and in that way, Kobe is better than Michael.
*After the game, Sacre said he did not understand the cause enough to don the shirt. He had seen the video and felt it was a tragic occurrence. The Lakers' center expressed sympathy for the family. However, he stated that he was unsure exactly what the t-shirts represented. As such, he abstained from taking part. All other Lakers' players wore the shirt.