The Norman Transcript

December 7, 2012

Bryant faces OKC on heels of milestone

Thunder host struggling Lakers squad

By Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Kobe Bryant is an enigma. Even as the Los Angels Lakers’ surperstar moved closer up the scoring charts into the 30,000-plus club, he wasn’t that impressed.

Not because the record is meaningless. It’s impossible to say that when the inhabitants include Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and now him.

But the only thing Kobe wanted to talk about Thursday after practice was the state of his Lakers squad now. Even though he’s in his 17th year, Kobe is not about to start looking behind him now. He’s still focused on what’s in front of him.

“I think now, honestly, I don’t know why I’m still working as hard as I am after 17 years,” Bryant said. “I mean, it’s just that I enjoy what I do and I think that’s the thing that I’m most proud of — every year, every day working hard at it. That’s a lot of years, a lot of work.”

Bryant, who entered the NBA at 18, is the youngest player to reach to the 30,000-point barrier. But it has also taken him the longest in terms of games. It took him 1,179 games compared to 941 for Chamberlain. Jordan did it in 960.

But that didn’t dampen the appreciation those around the league have for the accomplishment. That includes NBA commissioner David Stern.

“(Stern) said he was in (Las) Vegas when Kareem set his milestone and he just congratulated me and told me that I was one of the best competitors that he’s seen in this game,” Bryant told ESPN.Com. “I really appreciated that. He’s done a lot for the game and obviously, this kind of being his last in the office and so forth. It really means a lot.”

What is also impressive about Bryant’s new milestone is that of the five players to reach the number, four of them have worn a Lakers’ jersey at some point. That doesn’t include L.A. greats such as Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor.

“This is a franchise, like I’ve said in the past, guys whose jerseys hang up in the rafters are some of the all-time greats,” Bryant said. “Not just greats for the franchise. I don’t know if there’s any other organization that can say that.”

However, that same franchise enters tonight’s matchup with Oklahoma City surrounded by a cloud of confusion.

The Lakers have stumbled through the first part of the season that has seen the storied franchise make one controversial decision after another.

In the offseason they traded away Andrew Bynum and brought Dwight Howard and Steve Nash into the fold. Head coach Mike Brown was fired after a few weeks into the season. Instead of bringing back 11-time world champion Phil Jackson, Mike D’Antoni was brought in, who has never won a title.

Injuries, learning a new system and horrible defense have led to Los Angeles’ sub-par start. At 9-10 they are tied for eighth in the Western Conference and mired in mediocrity.

Conversely, the Thunder are 15-4 and considered one of the best teams in the NBA. They have gotten past the blockbuster James Harden trade and are now leading the league in scoring. Oklahoma City has been the model of consistency.

“We’re 19 games into a long season,” Kevin Durant told reporters Tuesday. “But right now I like the group we have. Kevin Martin has come in and played well for us. Russell Westbrook is stepping his game up. Kendrick Perkins is doing a great job. Everybody is just filling in for what James Harden left off. And we have a great group of guys here, and we’re just doing a great job of just playing together and playing defense. That’s the key formula.”

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