Before Kobe Bryant had even turned in his latest dominant performance, NBA Commissioner David Stern sought him out to offer a congratulatory hand shake for the extraordinary scoring milestone the Lakers star was about to surpass.
Stern assumed Bryant would score the 13 points he needed to become only the fifth player in NBA history to reach 30,000, and who wouldn't?
Bryant had 17 points by halftime, finished with 29, and Los Angeles snapped a two-game skid with a 103-87 victory over the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday night.
"He just congratulated me and told me I was one of the best competitors that he's seen in this game and I really appreciated that," Bryant said of his pregame exchange with Stern.
'It's pretty awesome. These are players I respect tremendously and obviously grew up idolizing and watching and learned a great deal from.' —Kobe Bryant
Now Bryant in is elite company. The only other players to score more than 30,000 are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain.
"It's pretty awesome," Bryant said. "These are players I respect tremendously and obviously grew up idolizing and watching and learned a great deal from."
When Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni was asked before tipoff about Bryant's impending milestone, the coach joked, "That just means he is old."
In fact, at 34, Bryant is younger than the other four were when they hit the mark, but Bryant also turned pro at 18, and is in his 17th season.
"Honestly, I don't know why I'm still working as hard as I am after 17 years," Bryant said. "I enjoy what I do. I think that's the thing that I'm most proud of: every year, every day working hard at it. It's a lot of years, a lot of work."
Bryant eclipsed the scoring milestone with a short jumper late in the first half that was perhaps the least spectacular of his baskets, which included the usual array of soaring dunks, demoralizing transition 3-pointers and turnaround, off-balance jumpers.
Dwight Howard added 18 points and five blocked shots for the Lakers, who trailed 48-47 at halftime but seized control with a 13-0 run to open the third quarter, and the lead grew as large as 20 in the fourth.
Ryan Anderson scored 31, hitting 5 of 8 3-pointers for the Hornets, who were playing their ninth straight game without top overall draft choice Anthony Davis. Greivis Vasquez added 16 points, while Robin Lopez scored 15 points and blocked five shots.
Anderson said Bryant "deserves all the recognition that he gets."
"He's a special guy to play against. Unfortunately, we didn't get the win," Anderson added. "I would have liked him to get the 30,000, but for us to get the win."
Antawn Jamison scored 15 and Metta World Peace 11, and Chris Duhon had 10 assists for Los Angeles, which is playing without Steve Nash and Pau Gasol and won for only the second time on the road this season. The Hornets fell to 3-7 at home and lost for the 10th time in 12 games overall.
The Hornets led from early in the first quarter until halftime, going up by as many as eight points when Al-Farouq Aminu slammed down an alley-oop lob from Vasquez, energizing the largest crowd of the season at the New Orleans Arena.
Bryant helped the Lakers trim their deficit after that, hitting five free throws and his milestone on 3-foot jumper in the last 2:15 of the second quarter.
Hornets coach laments defensive effort
Jamison opened the third-quarter onslaught with 3, Howard followed with a fast-break layup and Bryant had two straight fast-break dunks, one of which he created himself with a steal. Howard finished the surge with a layup.
"I just didn't think our defence was there, especially that first five or six minutes of the third quarter," Hornets coach Monty Williams said. "Our defence was really poor, and we can't afford those lapses."
Anderson's shooting helped the Hornets pull to 70-62 late in the third period, but Bryant hit an 18-footer and Jodie Meeks added one of his three 3-pointers to give Los Angeles a 13-point lead heading into the final period. Meeks and Darius Morris then added 3's early in the period and New Orleans could not recover.
Afterward, Bryant sat in his locker, reflecting on the elite company he now keeps in NBA history, and the things he sees in younger prolific scoring stars like Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant, who the Lakers will see next on Friday night, and who could very well join the 30,000-point club at the rate he's going.
One common characteristic, he said, is an apparent immunity to both pressure and criticism.
"Scorers kind of have a fighter-pilot mentality. We're a different breed," Bryant said. "But there are different positions. We scored in a myriad of ways. We all went about it differently in different situations. It's fun to see."