The global icon’s last NBA All-Star Game was a celebration of his illustrious career.
Kobe Bryant was never a threat to win a fifth All-Star Game MVP award on Sunday night. But the Los Angeles guard/forward was at ease with 10 points, six rebounds, and seven assists in the Western Conference’s 196-173 victory over the East at the Air Canada Centre.
Russell Westbrook won the MVP award for second consecutive year after scoring 31 points for the West. Paul George scored 41 for the East.
For Bryant, this was just another cherished stop on a farewell tour that started in his hometown of Philadelphia in December after announcing this would be his 20th and final NBA season.
And even though he wasn’t the game’s leading scorer, he was the brightest of all the All-Stars in his 18th consecutive selection to the game. It was his 15th time as a starter.
The crowd chanted “Ko-be! Ko-be! Ko-be!” as he was the last player introduced, giving him a loud ovation. Then Lakers legend Magic Johnson led the pregame ceremony, highlighted by two video tributes, to honor Bryant. All-Stars George, Andre Drummond, Chris Paul, Pau Gasol, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James took part in the second video. The future Hall of Famer shook hands with all the members of the Eastern Conference team while making his way to the Western bench.
“He’s the Michael Jordan of our era,” said Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, an Eastern all-star and Philadelphia native who finished with 14 points. “He’s the most competitive a lot of us have played against. And the things he’s done throughout his career and the things he’s done to change the game and motivate other players is unbelievable.”
This type of adoration should not have come as a surprise.
The 37-year-old was the top vote-getter (1,891,614) for the fourth time in his career. On Friday, he was presented with gifts from several international media members. Then on Saturday, there was a video tribute of him during his all-star team’s practice. So it was only fitting that Sunday night’s game would be a memorable experience for the 6-foot-6, 212-pounder.
“Well, I’d say from a personal standpoint, I’ve watched his game since the day he came into this league,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said. “I don’t think there is any doubt that he’ll go down as one of the greatest players ever to play this game.”
Impact beyond the court
But his impact goes beyond the basketball court. Raised for much of his childhood in Italy, speaking several languages and having interest in other cultures, Bryant is one of the most recognized athletes around the world.
“In addition to being a great player, he’s punched way above his weight in terms of the impact he’s had on the global expansion of the NBA,” Silver said.
“I was in China with him for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. That was amazing the number of people he touched. I mean, he made a decision that he wanted to get out and about, the number of events he went to, the amount of time that he takes personally blogging with Chinese companies, directly to Chinese fans that he has a relationship with.”
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