LOS ANGELES — The game might have been one-sided, but the post-game show of respect went both ways.
Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant exchanged their pairs of sneakers after the Thunder blitzed the Lakers 120–85 at the Staples Center on Wednesday night. A hesitant Durant copped to the exchange during his postgame media availability with reporters.
“Yeah, don’t tell nobody though, man,” Durant said. “I don’t want to be looked at as a softie.”
Bryant’s sneakers dangled from Durant’s bag as he exited the arena. Bryant autographed one of the sneakers and added an inscription: “To KD: Be the greatest.”
The perennial All-Stars, who dined together last week in Oklahoma City, are two of the most prolific scorers of the post-Michael Jordan era, winning a combined six scoring titles (Bryant two, Durant four). Bryant’s 35.4 PPG in 2005–06 and Durant’s 32 PPG in ‘13-14 are the highest season scoring averages among all active players.
Wednesday’s game marked the first time Bryant faced Durant and the Thunder since he announced his plans to retire after the season back in November. Bryant sat out the first meeting between the teams, a 118–78 Thunder victory, on Saturday.
Before they swapped shoes, Bryant and Durant traded highlights and smiles. Bryant scored a team-high 19 points on 7-of-22 shooting, and hit an early jumper after blowing by Durant. Later, Durant returned the favor by stymieing Bryant multiple times on the same possession.
“You long son of a [gun],” Bryant joked afterward. “I hadn’t played against him in a while. I forgot how long he was. It’s fun.”
Bryant took solace in the fact that he got Durant and Russell Westbrook off their feet with his pump fakes.
“I spent literally the entire summer showing them my pump fake and how to draw fouls, and then they both fell for it. As soon as they fell for it, they were like ‘Damn.’ That’s the type of stuff I’ll miss. The competition.”
Durant finished with 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting in the blowout, unleashing a few crossovers to lose Bryant off the dribble.
“I was looking forward to it,” Durant said of the matchup with Bryant. “When he didn’t play last time I was a little upset because I wanted to go out there and guard him. ... Great players elevate your game, elevate the team, and he’s one of those guys.”
The two Nike Basketball endorsers were each wearing versions of their signature sneakers. Bryant wore a white colorway of his Kobe Xs. Durant was in a black and orange version of his KD 8s.
Photos courtesy of LakersNation.com