They were there on the court, together, Sunday night at Target Center.
The veteran and the rookie, tie score, late. After the Lakers had won their game against the Wolves by scoring the final six points in a 100-94 victory, Wolves rookie Andrew Wiggins said he had witnessed greatness. Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant said he had seen a reflection of his younger self.
So maybe it was right that Bryant made his history here.
Sunday’s announced crowd of 15,008 came here to watch a historical event. And they got it. The fact that a pretty good basketball game broke out in the process was a bonus.
The story line was Bryant, needing nine points to pass Michael Jordan for third on the league’s scoring list. Bryant, in his 19th season, chasing the player he’d always idolized.
Everything else was secondary, even though just about every subplot held more suspense.
For the record, it was with 5 minutes, 24 seconds left in the first half that Bryant drove the baseline and was fouled by Zach LaVine. Coming out of a timeout, Bryant calmly hit two free throws with the crowd standing, cheering and recording as he officially passed Jordan (32,292).
“It’s been such an evolution, now I appreciate the game even more,” Bryant said.
His 26 points — 10 coming in the fourth quarter — gave him 32,310 for his career. “It has this sort of finality to it. Moments like this come around, you’re really overjoyed by it,” he said. “At the same time, the end is pretty near, which is just fine, too.”
Bryant thanked the fans, noting that he’s usually the villain on the road. So much so that it took some time to adjust. “You’re not expecting a hug,” he said. “It’s a pretty good feeling.”
The game was stopped, briefly. Wolves owner Glen Taylor gave Bryant a game ball. “It’s been an unbelievable career,” said Lakes coach Byron Scott, who was a Lakers player when Bryant broke into the league.
And then the rest of the game was played.
Even though the final score in this one was going to be a footnote, it was compelling. Shabazz Muhammad shook off ankle and back pain to match his career high with 28 points. Wiggins started fast, got into foul trouble, and finished with 16 points. LaVine, struggling with his shot all night, scored 10 with six assists. But, to his credit, his sense of humor remained intact. “I’m glad I fouled him,” he said of Jordan’s record-setting free throws. “I’m glad he didn’t make [a shot] on me.”
But to really find Bryant’s stamp on this game, move to the fourth quarter. Wiggins was fouled and made two free throws with 1:22 left, tying the score at 94-94.
What happened next has happened quite a lot over the years. The Lakers didn’t call the play for Bryant. First Nick Young and then Jordan Hill turned down shots. Finally Bryant worked his way to the top of the key, took a pass. And, with Wiggins lunging to contest the shot, hit a 26-footer.
“That was a bomb,” LaVine said. “That three really hurt.”
Said Wiggins: “That’s Kobe. That’s what he does. … I witnessed greatness tonight. A living legend just passed Michael Jordan, who everybody thinks is the greatest player of all time.’’
And here’s how everything came full circle. Because while talking about what had been done Sunday, Bryant also talked about what a guy like Wiggins is going to do.
“I remember being Andrew Wiggins,” he said. “I remember playing against Michael my first year. To be here tonight and play against him, seeing the baby face and the footwork and the little technique things he’s going to be much sharper at as time goes on, it’s like looking at a reflection of myself 19 years ago. It was pretty cool.”