TORONTO — The 2016 NBA All-Star Game was all about Kobe Bryant. The Los Angeles Lakers legend played in his 18th and last contest on Sunday night, and numerous pre-tip ceremonies – videos, speeches, and an impromptu note from the man himself – suggested the four-time All-Star MVP might hoist a final trophy above his head come game’s end.
After the 6-foot-6 Bryant playfully jumped center against LeBron James, though, the focus at Air Canada Centre shifted elsewhere – a close to shocking development that he seemed to relish after a long All-Star weekend of absolutely owning the spotlight.
“It feels so good to be able to speak to them about the game,” Bryant said of his fellow All-Stars before the game as they stood in unison behind him at half court, “and share some of the knowledge that I’ve learned throughout my career to them so that they can carry on the tradition of the NBA. And, hopefully, play 20 years themselves.”
It remains to be seen if icons like James and Steph Curry, let alone relative no-names like Isaiah Thomas and Paul Millsap, will live up to Bryant’s expectation of longevity. What was made abundantly clear during the tragically casual main event, though, is that Bryant is leaving the league in extremely capable hands – even if a natural-born competitor like him might be silently glad to leave the All-Star Game, specifically, behind.
In a glitzy, altogether boring and glorified shootaround that would make exhibition basketball look like the Conference Semifinals, the West beat the East, 196-173.
Russell Westbrook made history by winning his second consecutive All-Star Game MVP with a typically well-rounded stat line of 31 points, eight rebounds, five assists and five steals. Paul George led the losers with 41 points, an effort that left him one point shy of tying Wilt Chamberlain’s longstanding record for single points scored in the event.