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The goal remained clear cut in Andrew Bynum's eyes.
Playing on the NBA All-Star team would validate his arrival as an elite center. Yet, that stint kept delaying through six NBA seasons because Bynum couldn't stay healthy.
That point finally arrived Sunday when Bynum appeared in his first All-Star game in the West's 152-149 victory Sunday over the East. Yet, the same story ensued. Bynum's zero points on zero -of-three shooting, three rebounds and a block on Dwight Howard revealed little. Bynum remaining limited to six minutes revealed everything. He sat out after the 6:29 mark in the first quarter because of his sore right knee after having a routine injection on Saturday to treat it.
Granted, Bynum's mood during the remainder of the game hardly suggested he worried about it. Bynum told reporters he planned only to appear in the first rotation to minimize any risks. He plans to play Wednesday against Minnesota. As of right now, Laker fans shouldn't worry about Bynum's health.
But it's understandable for them if they do because they've seen how flimsy Bynum's knee has shown in previous seasons. The 2011-12 campaign has proven different. Bynum's points per game (16.3), rebounds (12.8) and minutes (34.6) all mark career-highs. The performances through the Lakers first 33 games finally shows how his offseason boxing and agility training, knee brace, seven-foot 213-pound frame, increased post presence and improved awareness on double teams provides all the tangible evidence Bynum's for real.
Yet, Bynum's discomfort in his right kness in the Lakers' 100-85 loss Thursday to Oklahoma City provides another reminder his growth remains fragile. Bynum has another set of 33 games to show efforts such as his procedure on Saturday will prevent any knee issues from stunting his growth. Meanwhile, Laker fans will anxiously wait, hoping misfortune doesn't strike again.
Photo: West center Andrew Bynum missed three early shots in the NBA All-Star game on Sunday in Orlando. He played five minutes before sitting out the rest of the game with a sore knee. Credit: Ronald Martinez / Getty Images / February 26, 2012
On a night where Kobe Bryant became the leading scorer in NBA All-Star game history, he hardly looked like the best player on the court.
In a game that could have featured a Bryant game-winner, he offered none. At a time where he could have showcased highlight reels, Bryant didn't have any.
But that's fine. The Western Conference's 152-149 victory Sunday over the Eastern Conference showed how Bryant remains tough and relevant despite the obstacles thrown at him.
LeBron James' 36 points on 15-of-23 shooting and numerous dunks revealed his tremendous talent. Yet, Bryant defended James on the final possession and then chastised him for passing up the last shot. Paul Pierce heckled Bryant about his missed free throws last week against Dallas as Bryant stood at the stripe with 18 seconds remaining. He only made one of two, but Bryant trash talked with Pierce before, during and afterwards. Dwyane Wade committed a hard foul on Bryant that gave him a bloody nose with 8:48 left in the third quarter. Fittingly enough, Bryant surpassed Michael Jordan's All-Star scoring record by making two free throws between receiving treatment on his battered nose.
Bryant's 27 points on nine-of-17 shooting gave him 271 points through 13 All-Star game appearances. It's a testament to his longevity. But his failure to surpass Hawks forward Bob Petitt with five All-Star MVP awards shows the emerging talent around Bryant.
He has bigger things to worry about, though, than going on a scoring spree. The first part involves making sure his nose feels fine. The other part involves his second-half play. An innovative procedure on both his surgically repaired right knee and sprained left ankle this summer ensured a healthier and more productive campaign where he's leading the league in scoring (28 points per game). But other signs show Bryant must pace himself for the remaining 33 regular-season games.
It's a well established fact Kobe Bryant continues to chase history.
A sixth championship ring puts him in a tie with Michael Jordan. Bryant recently surpassed Shaquille O'Neal for fifth place on the NBA's all-time scoring list. His league-leading 28.3 points could give Bryant his second regular-season MVP award.
But Bryant might chase another milestone in the 2012 NBA All-Star game. Bryant has the chance to grab his a league-record fifth All-Star MVP Sunday, which would surpass Hawks power forward Bob Pettit for the most All-Star MVPS. Bryant is also 19 points shy of surpassing Michael Jordan's All-Star record of 262 points. It remains to be seen whether Bryant's more motivated for that or resting his body for a grueling second half of the season.
--The Orlando Sentinel's Brian Schmitz talks with Lakers center Andrew Bynum, who says he believes he'll remain a Laker after the March 15 trading deadline. Schmitz also reports a rumor involving the Magic and the Lakers: The Lakers trade Bynum and Pau Gasol to the Magic for Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson.
--The Times' John Cherwa looks at how Lakers and the Clippers are strongly represented on this year's Western Conference all-star team.
Tweet of the Day: "Hardest thing for Lakers fans today will be seeing Kobe, CP3 & Bynum in the starting lineup knowing that could've been their nightly lineup." -- ArashMarkazi (ESPN Los Angeles' Arash Markazi)
Rick Friedman Reader Comment of the Day: "We need youth, a point guard, offense and leadership. So Jim Buss gets us an old, retired, defensive-minded power forward, that holds records for technical fouls. BRILLIANT!" - Neil Garces
The moment Magic Johnson announced nearly 20 years ago that he had been diagnosed with HIV, the Lakers' front office, teammates and reporters let out a collective reaction.
They gasped. They cried. They wondered not if, but when, the Lakers' star would die.
Johnson may have announced his abrupt retirement from a storied NBA career that brought the Lakers five NBA championships. But he also vowed he'd fight the disease and raise awareness about the virus that causes AIDS. The first time the general public saw that taking place was at the 1992 NBA All-Star game, when Johnson won MVP honors by posting a game-high 25 points and nine assists en route to the Western Conference's 153-113 victory over the East while playing with the disease.
"It had a great impact on the world," Johnson said in a conference call this week with reporters.
It's easy to look at it that way now as the 2012 NBA All-Star game in Orlando marks the same spot where Magic made his 12th All-Star appearance 20 years ago. Johnson then played on the 1992 Dream Team, which he maintains would beat the 2012 London team. His foundation has raised $10 million for HIV/AIDS research and charities. Johnson's business portfolio shows he's still ambitious: he owns 105 Starbucks franchises and a chain of movie theaters; he has sold his 4.5% ownership stake with the Lakers; and he has an interest in possibly purchasing the Dodgers. More important, Johnson still lives.
But rewind back to that 1992 NBA All-Star game. There remained plenty of uncertainty then among the general public and NBA players, such as Karl Malone and Mark Price, on the ramifications of Johnson competing. Yet the fans voted Johnson to play. NBA Commissioner David Stern approved the selection. Former Golden State Warriors guard Tim Hardaway gave up his starting spot for the former Lakers star.
"That was the therapy I needed to continue to live the rest of my life," Johnson said. "It was a great, great moment for me."
That's because Johnson hardly made a token appearance. He matched up with Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan. Johnson faced physical defense from Dennis Rodman. Johnson made three consecutive three-pointers in the fourth quarter. Even before the game had officially ended, teammates embraced him at half court. Then he hit a three-pointer to give the West its 153-113 win.
A meaningless basket in a meaningless game meant everything.
"It just showed people Magic is back and he can play," Johnson said. "You can play against him. Nothing will happen. I think it did a lot for the world and HIV and AIDS."
The lasting image behind the Lakers' four-game sweep to the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference semifinals hardly jibed with Kobe Bryant's legacy.
He missed a game-winning shot in Game 1. Bryant's surgically repaired right knee and sprained left ankle limited his on-court explosiveness. His 23.25 points on 45.7% shooting showed he couldn't overcome double teams and fatigue. It would've hardly been the best way to end a storied career. Just ask Phil Jackson.
Yet, Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez told reporters Saturday that Bryant told him the pain in his right knee and ankle felt so overwhelming that he considered retiring. That is, until an innovative procedure in Germany this off-season on both his right knee and left ankle fixed everything.
Bryant "was really adamant about how great the procedure was for him," Rodriguez told reporters. "I know that he was hurting before, almost even thinking about retirement, that's how much pain he was under. And then he said after he went to Germany he felt like a 27-year-old again. I was still a little apprehensive about it and he kept staying on me about it."
He'd barely had a chance to introduce himself as one of the Lakers' new assistant coaches before Darvin Ham had a 15-year-old grievance to settle with Kobe Bryant.
"Kobe, you got my trophy at your house," Ham recalls saying during the team's first practice.
Bryant has many trophies. Five championship rings, one Olympic gold medal, two Finals MVPs, one regular-season MVP and four All-Star MVPs come to mind. But Ham was referring to the 1997 NBA dunk contest, which the 18-year-old Bryant won with a between-the-legs slam. Ham didn't even advance past the first round.
"I lost to one of the top five players in history," Ham said during the days leading into tonight's NBA dunk contest. "It's a pleasure for me to lose to that guy. I think I can get him right now. He won't admit it. I think I can get him right now."
A few minutes after processing the news that Houston Rockets small forward Chase Budinger would compete in the 2012 NBA dunk contest, Ham finally let me quote him to capture his disappointment.
"Shouldn't he be in the three-point shootout?" Ham asked.
Perhaps. But with Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard publicly expressing a lack of interest in participating in Saturday night's contest, Budinger remains one of the fallback selections. The other three go to Minnesota rookie Derrick Williams, Indiana's Paul George and Utah's Jeremy Evans, who replaced New York's Iman Shumpert this week after Shumpert bowed out because of tendinitis in his left knee.
Ham, a Lakers assistant coach, has a unique interest in the competition. It was his glass-shattering dunk that helped Texas Tech beat North Carolina in the second round of the 1996 NCAA tournament, and that feat landed him on a Sports Illustrated cover. Ham also has joked with Kobe Bryant that he, not the Lakers' star, should've won the 1997 NBA dunk contest. Ham even revealed he posterized Lakers forward Devin Ebanks at a recent practice. But this contest hardly gets his blood boiling.
"I dunked on some Hall of Famers," Ham said. "So that dunk contest really doesn't impress me."
Tweet of the Day: "Asked if he ever imagined seeing 4 L.A. players on All-Star team, Kobe said "Yeah, they were just in Lakers uniforms." -- janiscarr (Orange County Register's Janis Carr)
" Rick Friedman Reader Comment of the Day: "The Lakers will not add any players if it costs them a bundle. The Lakers are now the Clippers and Little Jimmy Buss is channeling the old Donald Sterling." -- Ronald Hangling