So, what exactly do you do defensively against a guy who has 30,000-plus career points?
“Just hope to keep him under 31,000 points,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks deadpanned in preparation for Friday's 8:30 p.m. contest against Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Bryant joined the 30,000-point club during a victory Wednesday night at New Orleans and stands No. 5 on the NBA all-time scoring list with 30,016 points.
As Bryant continues to climb the career charts, former and current NBA players continually are asked to rank him on the all-time list of greats.
Thunder All-Star and three-time scoring champ Kevin Durant remembers watching Michael Jordan finish his career with the Washington Wizards from 2001-03 and barely remembers the final world championship Jordan won with the Chicago Bulls in 1997-98.
“I didn't really get to see a lot of Jordan in his prime,” said Durant, who then playfully took a jab at Bryant. “But seeing Kobe, I know he's an old fart.”
Durant teamed with Bryant to win a gold medal with Team USA last summer at the Olympic Games in London.
“Since I was about 8 years old, I've watched him dominate,” Durant said of Bryant. “Every year he's been in the league, he's been a joy to watch and it was just an honor and a blessing to play on his team this summer in the Olympics. To get 30,000 points, man … it's just an unbelievable accomplishment.
“It's good to say you played in a game with a great player, probably the best player in my era that I've ever seen. It's great to have somebody to kind of aim to and look up to and just compete against on a high level. I'm looking forward to playing against him (Friday). It's going to be fun.”
Will the 24-year-old Durant — who is at 10,481 career points and counting — ever reach the 30,000-point plateau?
“Man, I hope so,” Durant said with a smile. “That'd be cool. Right now, I'm just taking it a game at a time. To see him get 30,000 — I watched the point when he got it, too — yeah, it was pretty cool.”
OK, taking it one game at a time, Durant currently trails the 34-year-old Bryant by 781 games, 27,857 minutes and 19,535 points.
“He's one of the best ever,” Brooks said. “Watching the game (against New Orleans), he's such a smart scorer. He no longer has to rely only on athleticism. He can score in so many different ways, yet he's still athletic, and that's the crazy thing. He has every shot in boos. He can shoot either hand. You don't score 30,000 points if you can't do everything, and he can do everything.”
Once again, Thunder shooting guard Thabo Sefolsoha will start out defending the other team's best perimeter scorer. When it comes to Sefolosha's list of toughest players to defend, Bryant certainly is on it.
“Of course he is, but there are so many good players, talented players who really challenge the team and challenge me,” Sefolosha said. “He's definitely one of them, but there are a lot of good players.”
As is always the case, the Thunder will defend Bryant by committee, with four teammates rotating to help out whoever is attempting to defend the 14-time All-Star.
“It's going to be fun,” Sefolosha said. “It's just another game and that's how we approach it. It's going to be, I'm sure, an intense game and we've got to be ready.”
Bryant is a four-time MVP of the All-Star Game and twice has been MVP of the NBA Finals. However, only once has he been selected MVP for the season (2007-08).
“Sometimes MVP is more about the stories — how you come into the league, how your team is doing throughout that time,” said Durant, who was runner-up to Miami's LeBron James in last year's voting. “He (Bryant) was just so dominant year in and year out it's kind of like you know what Kobe's going to do, (so) you can't give him MVP. He could have won it seven or eight times. Just like LeBron, just like Michael Jordan, just like Larry Bird. There's a lot of guys who could have won it lots of times. He's got five (world championship rings), so the regular-season MVPs you really don't care about.”
Bryant is well-aware Durant and teammate Russell Westbrook grew up studying his game.
“You feel proud about it because you feel you leave the game in good hands,” Bryant said after Wednesday night's victory over New Orleans. “You've done more than just score points and win championships, but you helped lead the next championship.”