Prolific Phoenix forward Kevin Durant passed another mile marker on his way to the NBA Hall of Fame when he overtook Moses Malone to become the 10th leading scorer in league history Friday.
So much was made of it before the game that Durant knew exactly which of his 30 points was the decider — the driving layup that he made after bulling his way through Denver guard Reggie Jackson along the right baseline with 50.1 seconds remaining in the first half of 119-111 loss to the defending NBA champion Nuggets.
Durant, 35, also knows exactly whom he passed Friday, as he knew when he leap-frogged Elvin Hayes into 11th place among scorers in the regular season earlier this year.
“I’ve always respected Moses as somebody who doesn’t get the credit he deserves as being a dominant, dominant player in this league for awhile,” Durant said.
“A champion. He was the best player in the league at some point but doesn’t have that narrative around him or the hoopla around him as a player, but contributed and produced for over a decade in this league. Grateful to be in the same conversation with him. It’s been an amazing journey.”
Durant is as an faithful student of the game, and as such he has made it a mission to immerse himself in NBA history, watching football of the earlier greats.
He considers it almost an obligation.
Durant a student of NBA history
“I try to get to know the players from the past,” Durant said. “YouTube has been such a valuable asset. You can always go back and kind of relive those moments. As a basketball player, I think it is our job to go back and know the history of the game and know who paved the way for us to be who we are today. Just grateful for those guys for doing what they did at that time for us to be able to do what we do now.”
Durant has scored 27,423 points in the regular season, with No. 9 Carmelo Anthony (28,282) and No. 8 Shaquille O’Neal (28,596) within immediate striking distance. LeBron James, the only active player who has more points than Durant, became the first to pass the 39,000-point plateau two weeks ago.
“You can find some small stuff that you can take away from guys at that level,” Durant saId. “The Moses Malones the Elvin Hayeses, the Carmelos. The Charles Barkleys. The Shaqs and all these guys, they played at an elite level for a long time. They do a lot of different things out there on the floor. You try to emulate and be like the pros. That’s how we were as kids. You want to be like the pros. Those guys set a great example.”
Durant was the first player new Suns owner and billionaire Mat Ishbia identified after his $4 billion bid to purchase the Suns from Robert Sarver was approved a year ago. Ishbia officially took control on Feb. 7, and two days later he acquired Durant from Brooklyn in a four-team trade.
Ishbia’s first major move: Durant
The three-plus remaining years on the four-year, $194.2 million max contract Durant signed with the Nets before the 2022-23 season was no impediment for Ishbia, whose net worth was estimated at $7.1 billion by Forbes as of last weekend.
Durant can earn another $6.2 million through the life of the deal through reachable incentives that include his team making the playoffs and winning at latest 43 games, making an All-Star team, and playing in at least 39 games per season.
Durant is off to one the best starts of a 16-year career that includes championships with the Golden State Warriors in 2017 and 2018, 10 All-Star Games and five league scoring titles. He is averaging 31.2 points — the highest in 10 seasons — and has made 48.7 percent of his three-point attempts, which would be a career high. He made 45.0 percent in 2020-21.
His career “true” shooting percentage, which values two- and three-point field goals and free throws, is 61.9 percent, the best among the top 33 scorers in NBA history and second only to Stephen Curry (62.8), who ranks No. 34 and is 900 points from catching Elgin Baylor.
“When you look at the size, the length, the skill, the shooting, and just the ability to get his own shot and raise up and shoot over you whenever he wants, has always stood out,” Denver coach Mike Malone said Friday.
The respect of others
“The one thing I admire about him is that he has done it his own way. He hasn’t tried to be a anybody other than Kevin Durant. I think there is a lot to be said for that. When young players come in the league, everybody wants to say he’s the next ….. Kevin Durant was never the next anybody. He was the first Kevin Durant, and you have to respect that about him.”
Durant said he is just grateful to be playing the game he loves.
“It’s a long journey to be up there mentioned with the greats,” Durant said. “It takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of preparation. I’m grateful thinking about the people who helped get me to this point. All this stuff is cool to do. Shows you’re getting old in the league as well. It’s amazing to be among the greats.
“People invested in me and trusted in me to go out there and play my game. I just have two keep coming through.”