All-Star Weekend honours Kobe Bryant in a hypercompetitive mid-season showcase
WASHINGTON – Throughout NBA All-Star Weekend in Chicago, the late Kobe Bryant was remembered in every way possible. Sunday's All-Star Game honoured him in the best way - with the game's greatest players battling in a hypercompetitive midseason showcase.
Using a new format with a target score, Team LeBron edged Team Giannis, 157-155, as Chicago native and Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis made the clinching free throw to end what looked more like the NBA Finals.
Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, who had eight three-pointers and 30 points, was the first recipient of the newly renamed All-Star Game Kobe Bryant MVP Award.
“It's very special,” Leonard said. “Like I said, I had a relationship with him. Words can't explain how happy I am for it.”
On January 26, Bryant, 41, his daughter Gianna, 13, and seven others died tragically in a helicopter crash in California, leaving the basketball world in stunned sadness.
“We all saw what he was able to do on the floor as a competitor, as a champion, someone who strived for excellence every single day,” said Lakers superstar LeBron James. “But we also saw the father he was as well to his beautiful daughters and to his wife.”
All-Star Games traditionally have featured little defense as players emphasized entertaining rather than winning. This one was different.
The teams tried to win each quarter and earn money for their chosen charity. Entering the fourth quarter, 24 points - one of Bryant's uniform numbers - were added to the leading team's total and became the target score.
Team Giannis held a 133-124 advantage but Team LeBron rallied, raising the stakes.
“We had a little bit of playoff intensity out there. So I loved it,” said “Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo of Milwaukee.
There were 49 dunks through three quarters but just two thereafter. Toronto guard Kyle Lowry drew two charges. Players argued with referees, who used replay to uphold coaches' challenges and allow a spectacular block by Antetokounmpo on James.
“Throughout the whole fourth quarter and at the end of the game, everybody was like, 'That was pretty damn fun,'“ James said.
"Thank you. This one's for him." 💜💛— NBA (@NBA) February 17, 2020
Kawhi Leonard thanks the late Kobe Bryant upon winning the first-ever Kia NBA All-Star Game Kobe Bryant MVP Award. pic.twitter.com/o8YS1jLRy9
The night began with Lakers legend Magic Johnson asking the United Center for an eight-second moment of silence, honouring Bryant's other uniform number. Before player introductions, Chicago native and rapper Common said, “Even in the darkest time, you'll feel Kobe's light.”
Team Giannis players all wore number 24 for Bryant while Team LeBron wore number 2 for Gianna Bryant.
“You could definitely feel (his) presence, just from the start,” James said.
The honours for Bryant began Friday, when the Basketball Hall of Fame announced he was on this year's list of nominees.
They continued Saturday with Commissioner Adam Silver revealing the MVP trophy would be named after Bryant, who won it four times. At the NBA All-Star Weekend Newsmaker Brunch, President Barack Obama spoke of the tragedy that took Bryant's life.
“Those of us who have had the joy and privilege of being parents, and taking our kids to ball games, and rooting for our children, and then seeing our dreams and hopes passed on to them ... nothing is more heartbreaking,” Obama said.
All-Star Saturday night began with Dwyane Wade and Candace Parker asking crowd to cheer for 24.2 seconds. Performances by rappers Queen Latifah and Portland Trail Blazers All-Star guard Damian Lillard also referenced Bryant.
In the Slam Dunk Contest, Lakers centre Dwight Howard reprised his “Superman” dunk from 2008, wearing a shirt with the number 24 and adding a red cape. He told the Los Angeles Times that Bryant had agreed to bring him the cape.
And Sunday, the best players in the world competed in a way that would have made Bryant proud.
“We know that he's watching over us,” James said.