DALLAS — You never know where Kobe Bryant is going to pop up during a game.
But for NBA All-Star Weekend, it was easy to picture him as big screen TV’s.
After Kobe wore a Lakers jersey to the podium during pregame introductions and while under guard while shooting free throws, he watched the passing he’s made over the years in his fourth All-Star Game from above, finishing the four-minute series without scoring, if only to smile when his teammates were doing well and receiving all the credit.
“[Kobe] had been texting me saying how much he loved being a part of it for the fourth time,” Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said. “I’m always happy to see the best doing good, in all corners of the league. So I was happy.”
Bryant wouldn’t talk after the game, and never made an appearance on the court. There was little resistance from the Miami Heat, at the Garden or beyond the Lakers. He is retired, and there was a no-risk project. By joining the building as the Lakers’ former big man of the moment for NBA All-Star Weekend, Bryant gave big hoops fans something they’d see again.
Fittingly, Bryant won the ball for the All-Star MVP, but it was a game with so many supporting characters that the award has become one of the game’s most unexpected gifts. At 13, Emmanuel Mudiay now ranks third on the NBA’s all-time steals list; Big Ten fans will be glad to hear that Thomas Bryant has shot more 3-pointers in just four full seasons than two full NCAA seasons at Indiana; Bill Self figures to be around a while at Kansas; then there’s Kyle Korver, the 38-year-old sharpshooter from the NBA (playing for a Dallas Mavericks team that traded for him earlier in the season), was given the honor of shooting in the final game of his career.
And then there was the Memphis Grizzlies, still pushing for playoff position but with a 25-31 record and very little hope of pulling off a deep run. Before the game, coach J.B. Bickerstaff laughed and said, “I’m gonna miss my general manager’s email box,” before praising Grit-N-Grind, “Our guys go hard, we play hard. It’s not like you can show up or skip your kids or skateboarding. Our guys get up early. It’s blue collar.”
That was Bryant then, about the virtues of hard work, detail and family. Over the course of this weekend, that continues.
“He’s been nothing but first class all weekend. He’s been great every single day,” said Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, who shared the MVP honor with Kristaps Porzingis after a record-tying 40 points and seven rebounds in the All-Star Game. “It just shows the type of person he is to say that he’s happy for them, to see them successful, but he’s still our teammate. He’s still a great friend of mine. The five spots [from a league draft] that we didn’t use him, he’s our partner in the fraternity, and that’s who he is.”
And all in the service of this: one more All-Star weekend.