Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant, closing in on Michael Jordan for third on the NBA`s all-time scoring list, insists he isn`t fueled by a desire to surpass the league icon.
"I only think about it when I`m asked about it," Bryant said, refuting former coach Phil Jackson`s claim that Bryant has been driven throughout his career by a desire to surpass Jordan.
"People who say that don`t really understand me," Bryant told the Los Angeles Times last week. "It`s a myth. Phil likes to say things a lot of times to create good content and create good stories."
But Bryant has been measured against Jordan ever since he joined the league, making the leap straight from high school in 1996.
Since then, he has won five NBA titles with the Lakers -- one less than the six Jordan captured with the Chicago Bulls.
Bryant, 36 and back on court after injury limited him to just six games last season, has been fielding questions since the pre-season about how his current campaign compares to the waning of Jordan`s career.
Bryant has admitted he can see how the comparisons arise, but he doesn`t necessarily think they are apt.
"We`ve had different career paths completely," Bryant said, adding that he considers himself a torch bearer for a line of shooting guard greats that includes former Laker Jerry West as well as Jordan.
"I feel great about that," said Bryant, who took his career points total to 32,230 in a loss to New Orleans on Sunday, and needs 63 to surpass Jordan`s career tally of 32,292.
Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with 38,387 and Karl Malone with 36,928, scored more in their careers.
Bryant will no doubt edge closer to Jordan`s tally this week, when the Lakers host Sacramento on Tuesday and visit San Antonio on Friday. After that, the Lakers are at Minnesota on Sunday and Indiana on December 15.
The aging warrior is among the league leaders with an average of 25.2 points per game, but he`s connecting on less than 40 percent of his shots and his Lakers are a dismal 5-16 -- next-to-last in the Western Conference.
Although a Jordan-matching sixth title for Bryant is seemingly already out of reach this season, Lakers coach Byron Scott still thinks Bryant, who has vowed this campaign will be his last, could still be persuaded to come back next year if the Los Angeles Lakers show signs of life.
"He`s got a lot left in the tank," Scott said.
"And I think if we put something together that excites him, I think we have a real good chance of saying `Play another year, give it another shot.` And that`s what we plan to do."