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Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Updated: December 7, 10:24 AM ET
Kobe Bryant youngest to 30,000

By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com

NEW ORLEANS -- Kobe Bryant's ultimate place among basketball's greats may be up for debate. But there is no denying Bryant's spot as one of the all-time best scorers after he became the youngest player in NBA history to reach 30,000 career points Wednesday.

Bryant made a slashing right-handed runner in the lane with 1:16 remaining in the second quarter against the New Orleans Hornets, giving him 30,001 career points at just 34 years, 104 days old.

Bryant surpassed Wilt Chamberlain's previous record of 35 years, 179 days. The Los Angeles Lakers star scored 17 points in the first half against the Hornets.

Bryant joins Chamberlain (31,419 points), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387), Karl Malone (36,928) and Michael Jordan (32,292) as the only five players in NBA history to reach the 30,000-point plateau.

"It's just a tremendous honor," Bryant told reporters after finishing with 29 points in the Lakers' 103-87 win. "I don't really know how else to put it. I've just been very, very fortunate."

NBA commissioner David Stern was present at New Orleans Arena to witness Bryant's achievement.

"I want to shake his hand. I think Kobe is, as a talent and a competitor, he's up there on the pedestal with Michael Jordan as one of the greatest," Stern told reporters before the game. "Kobe has such an extraordinary run playing at the highest level for so long with the championships to prove it in a league that is extremely competitive.

"Kobe and the Lakers have been an important part of the league, and I wish him well for this season and beyond."

Bryant spoke to the commissioner before the game.

"(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 said. "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."

Bryant was the fifth-fastest player -- in terms of games played -- to reach the milestone, needing 1,179. Chamberlain was the fastest at 941 games, followed by Jordan (960), Abdul-Jabbar (1,101) and Malone (1,152). Bryant also was the youngest player to reach the 20,000-point mark.

"That just means he's old. He's played a lot," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni joked before the game. "I think it's great. Not many people can get that achievement. That's something he's earned and deservedly so. That's great."

Four of the five names on the 30,000-point list played for the Lakers at one point in their careers, a fact not lost on Bryant, who has spent all 17 years of his career suiting up for the purple and gold.

"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 earlier this week as the milestone was approaching. "Not just greats for the franchise. I don't know if there's any other organization that can say that."

The opponent was also special for Bryant, as the Hornets were the team that drafted him in 1996 before then-Lakers general manager Jerry West acquired Bryant in a deal for Vlade Divac.

"The irony," Bryant said. "It's funny how sports always seems to kind of have that connectivity in some shape, form or fashion. It just kind of always seems to come full circle."

Bryant, 34, looked younger than his years as four of his 10 field goals came on dunks the day after he played 35 minutes in a road loss to the Houston Rockets.

"Just the legs feeling fresh," he said of the dunks. "I really challenged myself to do a lot of recovery today. Even more than I normally do, to try to get ready for this back-to-back game. My legs felt great as a result."

Several players with ties to Bryant checked in with congratulations for the five-time champion via Twitter.

"Congratulations to the best scorer in the planet, mate and friend, Kobe! for joining the 30.000 points club!! Huge accomplishment!#Kobe30K," wrote Pau Gasol, who was at the game but did not play because of knee tendinitis.

"CONGRATS 2 THE GREAT KOBE "BEAN" BRYANT 4 DROPPING 30,004 POINTS OVER HIS CAREER AND STILL COUNTING," wrote Shaquille O'Neal, who teamed with Bryant to win three rings despite a tumultuous relationship with the Lakers' star.

Said Bryant: "I think now, honestly, I don't know why I'm still working as hard as I am after 17 years. 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."