NBA All-Star weekend was a fitting tribute to Kobe Bryant
CHICAGO – The purpose of the panel wasn't for Kobe Bryant. The gathering of former President Barack Obama had been organized long before a helicopter crash on January 26 broke the hearts of millions. But, like in every party, every news conference, every charity event at All-Star weekend this year, for a few moments it was.
Obama sat on a stage with Chris Paul, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Love, and did what so many people have felt compelled or been compelled by others to do for the past three weeks.
"The last conversation I had with him was with him and Vanessa in L.A.," Obama said. "I asked if he missed basketball. He said, 'I don't miss it at all, I don't touch a basketball, because I am now just as competitive and focused on the second phase.' We were talking about how we could work together with the foundation to mentor young men of color who were at risk."
Bryant was on everyone's mind and had been for several days. As All-Star weekend's festivities wrapped, the NBA concluded what had become a three-day celebration of Bryant's life. From the ancillary events where participants spoke of his legacy, to the dunk contest, to the game itself, the weekend offered the league as a whole a way to say goodbye and reset for the final part of the season.
"The entire weekend was honoring his legacy," Anthony Davis said. "Obviously, our jerseys. Both teams played hard. I think the NBA did a wonderful job in continuing his legacy in the All-Star game."
There were tributes of different kinds.
The planned tributes included a twist in the All-Star game's new format. After three quarters, the teams played one untimed quarter which ended when one team reached a target score. That part was already planned. What honored Bryant was that the target score would now be 24 points greater than the point total for the team that was winning after three quarters.
Each team wore jerseys honoring Bryant and his daughter Gianna as well - LeBron James picked No. 2, Gianna's number, for his team because of his own daughter Zhuri. Team Giannis wore No. 24.
Friday afternoon, the Basketball Hall of Fame announced that Bryant was officially a finalist for this year's class.
The decor at Michael Jordan's birthday party Friday night - an annual All-Star tradition - included a flower arrangement in purple and gold shaped like Bryant's jersey.
Commissioner Adam Silver announced on Saturday that the league had renamed the All-Star MVP award after Bryant, who is only one of two players to have won the award four times. Dwight Howard produced a dunk in the first round of the dunk contest that involved his wearing a 24 on his chest and dunking with a commemorative ball for Bryant. The original version of the dunk had involved Bryant himself.
Magic Johnson delivered a eulogy before Sunday's game, Jennifer Hudson sang for him, Chance the Rapper rapped for him. Allen Iverson wore his jersey to the game.
There were murals and posters and paintings. A pizza place in the Bronzeville neighborhood had Bryant's jersey painted in the window with a cursive "RIP" above it and a white painting of a dove.
The players agreed that was only fitting, but throughout the weekend there were signs of a weariness to continue the conversation.
All-Star weekend features a gathering of the league's best players and a gathering of hundreds of people credentialed by the league, many of whom do not regularly attend NBA events. Having discussed their connections to Bryant for weeks, players and former players were sometimes reluctant to continue doing so.
Ron Harper, who played with Bryant for two championship seasons, was asked during a charity appearance about Bryant. He said he wasn't in the right frame of mind.
"I really don't want to sit up here and talk about it too much," James said during Saturday's media day, after offering a few sentences about Bryant for a question that wasn't the first about Bryant. "It's a very, very sensitive subject, but he's with us every day."
By Sunday James felt less averse.
He sat at the podium wearing a blue All-Star jersey and fielding questions after Sunday night's game.
"Hi, Kobe," a reporter sitting in the front row said. "Can you share your favorite off-the-court memory ..."
James jumped in: "I don't mind being Kobe this weekend."
"Sorry, I'm so nervous," the reporter said.
"It's fine, it's fine," James said, smiling politely. "My mom might not like it. But I'm OK with it."
He saw it as another way to honor the man on everyone's mind all weekend.dpa