Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant have long seen each other as kindred spirits, with the elder Bryant acting as an occasional mentor (and dinner companion) to the younger superstar, and Durant having Kobe's back in the face of what he saw as an unfair amount of media criticism of Bryant's poor play earlier this season.
This friendliness did not stop Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder from running Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers off of the floor in a 120-85 blowout loss on Wednesday night. Kobe was able to turn back time in the second quarter of the contest, going 5-8 (2-14 the rest of the game) in a duel with Thunder's dynamic duo of Russell Westbrook and Durant, but the two led a 22-0 OKC run to begin the third quarter that ended any semblance of competitiveness between the teams.
Bryant accepted the loss (with a strange analogy) after the game, and both he and Durant were in a good mood after the game, with each offering glowing praise of the other one and even exchanging shoes:
Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant exchanged shoes tonight. Kobe wrote on the pair he gave to Durant, "To KD, be the greatest!"— Royce Young (@royceyoung) December 24, 2015
Kobe loves Durant, called him "a fantastic player." The one thing he'd like to see more is Durant posting up. Says he'd be unstoppable.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) December 24, 2015
Kobe said Kevin Durant's one of the top 5 players he's faced in his career, probably because of his "versatility...and he plays with no fear"— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) December 24, 2015
Kevin Durant on Kobe: "Great players elevate your game, elevate the team, and he's one of those guys."— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) December 24, 2015
And it sounds like going up against Durant has motivated Bryant to start taking tougher defensive assignments moving forward:
Kobe waxing nostalgic about marking up with KD. Kobe wants to match up with all the top guys moving forward— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) December 24, 2015
Durant expressed a fondness for being able to be friendly with Bryant but still compete at the highest level:
Durant on Kobe: "We can laugh and joke throughout the game. But when the whistle sounds, we're gonna go at each other."— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) December 24, 2015
And for an example of what the two "going at each other" sounds like, Bryant offered this:
Kobe on laughing after Durant blocked his two shots in a row. "I said, 'You long, son of a ---. '"— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) December 24, 2015
It's good that Bryant does not feel too bad about those blocks, because they were not even the highest profile blocks of a Los Angeles based guard Durant has had this week: