TORONTO — Kobe Bryant means a lot to the NBA, and they showed their appreciation before Sunday night’s 65th annual All-Star Game. With Magic Johnson emceeing, Bryant got a pregame sendoff fit for one of the most polarizing and dynamic personalities the Association has ever seen.
A video on the big screen showed Paul George, Andre Drummond, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and more commemorating the man who has been a mentor, a rival and an inspiration to so many of today’s superstars. “We salute you,” Kevin Durant said, and he actually meant it. In an All-Star weekend that’s always been overloaded with the synthetic fluff of commerce that drives the NBA Leviathan, there was nothing fake about the respect shown Bryant from the generation he helped mold — sometimes quite literally.
Bryant’s own narration rung out in the Air Canada Centre as the video tribute came to its conclusion, with a pair of his own phrases spliced together to sum up Kobe’s next odyssey.
“When the end comes, I’m fine with that.” Bryant intoned. “Then you take on that challenge, right?” It’s a rhetorical question when the five-time champion asks, isn’t it?
After Magic finished by saying “there will never be another Kobe Bryant” and handed the mic off to the man of the hour, a chant of “KOBE, KOBE, KOBE” broke out, and members of the media stood and clapped. It’s his weekend after all, and as the crowd later saw him gingerly running down the court next to players who make him seem even older than his 37-year-old legs probably feel, the entire arena sat transfixed despite the spectacle of the send off.
Bryant acknowledged with some humor how happy he was to be voted into his 18th and final All-Star appearance. The honor itself probably meant a little more than his previous 17 introductions, but we appreciated how much he enjoys his All-Star peers.
“I get a chance to be around these players here, who when I first started playing, most of them were my kids’ age.
“It feels so good to be able to speak to them about the game.”
For most in attendance, it just felt good to see Bryant one last time. He’s a shell of the wing who terrorized the NBA for 20 seasons and five titles, but the respect and admiration he’s been shown in Toronto this weekend is a testament ti a legacy that will endure well beyond this weekend, this season or even this decade.
We just hope Kobe meets the challenge of retirement the same way he did on the court: with no fear.