Ankle injury keeps Kobe Bryant from adding to his NBA All-Star history
When deciding whether he would play in Sunday's NBA All-Star game, Kobe Bryant said he applied the same logic as when he decided against playing in the last three Lakers games."If it's an injury that can get better while I continue to play, I'll continue to play," Bryant told reporters Saturday in Dallas. "If it won't, then I can't."
He decided officially on Thursday that he wouldn't play Sunday in what would have been Bryant's 12th All-Star appearance, and the league replaced him with Dallas Mavericks guard Jason Kidd. Nonetheless, Bryant still made the trip to Dallas, assisting Lakers guard Shannon Brown in the NBA Dunk Contest and adding his presence to the showcase event.
When asked by reporters Saturday in Dallas how it was going to feel to miss the All-Star game, Bryant succinctly replied: "Weird."
"Especially here," he said. "This is a historical All-Star game being played at Cowboys Stadium, so it’s a shame that I have to miss this one."
In fact, it's the only one he's missed since 1998, when he became the youngest player ever to start in an All-Star game. The only year he hadn't appeared in an All-Star game in his 13 seasons was his rookie year, the 1996-97 season. That's when he won the slam dunk competition with a between-the-legs dunk. Don't forget to disregard 1999 since there was no All-Star game because of the NBA lockout.
Lakers fans can at least take solace in the fact that forward Pau Gasol will be there to represent the team. But the game may lose some of its luster among Lakers fans without Bryant in the lineup. That's because he's provided many memories in the last 11 All-Star games, including two MVPs, one co-MVP and leading the West in scoring five times. This is a good time to look back at those games and see what Bryant contributed to them (after the jump).
1998 NBA All-Star game
Most of the focus rightfully centered on Michael Jordan's third All-Star MVP award in the East's 135-114 victory and whether this would ultimately be his last All-Star appearance. Within that story line, it was also apparent that a changing of the guard was taking place.
In just his second year in the NBA, Bryant became the youngest player, at 19, to be voted in as a starter for the NBA All-Star game. Though he didn't even start for his own team, Bryant proved he was worthy of the honor. He led the West with 18 points, six rebounds and two steals despite missing the entire fourth quarter.
"Can I sum it up?" Bryant rhetorically asked reporters. "No. No. If I could, I would. I don't know how I'm feeling right now. I'm a little sad because it's over."
2000 NBA All-Star game
These were the days when Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal enjoyed playing with each other. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that Bryant told reporters his favorite moment of the 2000 All-Star game was when Shaq performed a fast-break 360-degree dunk in the West's 137-126 victory over the East. It was part of a big day for Shaq, who collected 22 points and nine rebounds en route to a co-MVP award with San Antonio's Tim Duncan (24 points, 14 rebounds).
Though the West mostly centered on its frontline, Bryant still managed 15 points, had a flying alley-oop dunk and performed a sky hook, after which he pointed to Magic Johnson in the stands. Bryant, who played 28 minutes, told Coach Phil Jackson he should have reduced his playing time, thinking it would be better if Oakland products Jason Kidd and Gary Payton played before the hometown crowd.
"He came to me and he actually said, 'You know, Gary's from here, Jason's from here and they played together when they were kids,' " Jackson told reporters. " 'And it'll probably be fun for the kids, I'd be willing to sit out early if you want to take me out early.' "
2001 NBA All-Star game
This usually doesn't happen: Someone else other than Bryant taking the last-second shot. Yet, despite leading the West with 19 points and going toe to toe with Philadelphia's Allen Iverson, Bryant found Duncan open for the last shot. But Duncan's attempt was blocked by Toronto's Vince Carter and the East came away with a 111-110 victory over the West.
It appeared the last shot would go to Bryant, given his reputation for late-game heroics and for making three consecutive baskets in the game. But Bryant said afterward the last play just came down to what was happening on the court.
"I was just reading the defense," said Bryant, who compiled a team-high seven assists. "I had an opportunity for a shot, but Tim had a better look ... so I gave the ball up to him."
2002 NBA All-Star game
Philadelphia didn't exactly show brotherly love to Bryant, who attended Lower Merion High School just outside the area. The city was still bitter from the Lakers having defeated the 76ers in five games in the 2001 NBA Finals.
Despite the fans' frequent boos and jabs that Bryant was a ball-hog, Mamba didn't lose focus. He put together 31 points, including 12 in the first quarter in the West's 135-120 victory over the East, a performance that ranked second among Lakers who participated in the All-Star game. He trailed only Elgin Baylor, who scored 32 points in the 1962 NBA All-Star game. It also earned Bryant his first All-Star MVP award.
He admitted afterward that the constant heckling disturbed him.
"I was pretty upset, pretty hurt," Bryant told reporters. "My first game here in the NBA, my rookie year, they booed me too. And that really hurt, because it was like my homecoming. That was very, very hurtful."
The booing continued even during the MVP ceremony, leading West Coach Don Nelson to tell Bryant: "Don't take it personal. They wish they had you."
Bryant wasn't so sure. But now he had something to keep that never-ending drive ignited.
"I'll use it as motivation," Bryant told reporters. "I'm the type of person where if something occurs in my life that's hurtful, I'm only going to let it hurt me for so long. I'm going to turn it around and use it."
2003 NBA All-Star game
With the West trailing by two with one second remaining, Bryant was put in the lineup to clinch two free throws to force overtime.
Bryant, who wore retro Air Jordans in tribute to Michael Jordan's last All-Star game, later said he was torn. Still, he tied the game with two free throws, and the West eventually prevailed in a 155-145 double-overtime victory.
"Part of me felt like I had a job to do because I'm in the situation I was in and I needed to make those free throws," Bryant told reporters after scoring 22 points on eight-of-17 shooting, grabbing seven rebounds and dishing out six assists. "But the other part me of was like -- I didn't want to do it, to be honest with you."
2004 NBA All-Star game
The game certainly didn't lack for story lines. All week, reports emerged detailing problems with Bryant and Jackson, Bryant and the Lakers and Bryant and Shaq. Then, Bryant arrived 30 minutes late to Staples Center and missed the team picture, apparently because of L.A. traffic.
The West's 136-132 win over the East featured Shaq (24 points, 11 rebounds) and Bryant (20 points, four rebounds, four assists, two steals) coexisting despite any of the aforementioned problems earlier in the week. Their numbers were similar, but they weren't competing with each other for the MVP award, with Bryant looking for teammates late in the game. Shaq ultimately won that honor, and Bryant complimented O'Neal afterward.
"He's not a typical big man," Bryant told reporters. "He can handle the ball, do a lot of creative things on the perimeter. He had an incredible game today, running the floor, getting second-chance opportunities, taking pictures of himself. It was showtime, man."
2005 NBA All-Star game
This was the first meeting between Bryant and O'Neal on opposing All-Star teams, and it was obvious the two hadn't patched up their relationship after the Lakers shipped O'Neal to Miami.
The two ignored each other during pre-game handshakes at center court. They slipped off center stage following the East's 125-115 victory over the West. And the reception from the Denver crowd surely made it clear whose side they they were on. As O'Neal was greeted with cheers, he placed his hand on his chest and simulated a beating heart. Bryant, 125 miles from Eagle, Colo., where he was charged with sexual assault in July 2003, was booed loudly. The charges against Bryant were dropped the previous September.
The Kobe-Shaq storyline was something Bryant didn't want to feed after the game.
"I'm really not going to make this weekend about myself and Shaquille," Bryant told reporters after scoring 16 points, the second most for the West. "I obviously respect Shaquille tremendously for what he can do on the basketball floor and vice versa. Even when we played together, we weren't the best of buddies, but we won three titles, so I think everybody has to just kind of leave that in the past and move on."
2006 NBA All-Star game
Bryant's 20-foot jumper tied the game with 32 seconds remaining, but, with 16 seconds left, the East's Dwyane Wade responded, followed by LeBron James' block on Tracy McGrady. It secured the East a 122-120 victory over the West and an All-Star MVP for James (29 points), who became the youngest All-Star to collect the award.
"I got a piece of his arm and the ball, which made it short," James told reporters, essentially admitting he fouled McGrady. "Great defensive play, I guess."
Though most of the post-game chatter centered on James being the future of the NBA, Bryant finished a quiet game of eight points on only four-of-11 shooting.
2007 NBA All-Star game
Bryant said his second All-Star MVP felt a lot better than the first one, and it's not just because the West's 153-132 victory over the East happened in Las Vegas.
This time, after scoring 31 points (matching his All-Star career high in 2002), shooting 13 of 24, dishing out six steals and grabbing six steals, Bryant was greeted with cheers as Commissioner David Stern presented him the MVP trophy. That was much different from when he won his first MVP, in 2002 in Philadelphia. Bryant, graduate of a nearby high school, was not a favorite of the city. (And it didn't help matters that the Lakers had beat the 76ers in the 2001 NBA Finals.)
"You take the greatest show in the world [the NBA], you put it in the entertainment capital of the world and you multiply a normal All-Star game by 10," Bryant told reporters regarding Vegas. "It's really special here. A lot of energy and a lot of excitement. ... You could feel it. Hopefully, it will be here again, just because we had so much fun here."
2008 NBA All-Star game
The only positive that came out of the East's 134-128 victory over the West is that Bryant escaped without any injuries.
Though Bryant had a torn ligament in his right pinkie finger, NBA officials insisted that he play in the game, though Vice President Stu Jackson reportedly told West Coach Byron Scott that he could limit Bryant's playing time.
Bryant played only two minutes and 52 seconds, and thankfully, Scott observed, players didn't target Bryant.
"In our day, they would have done it every game until he couldn't probably play, especially if you have an injury like Kobe has, where you have to wear some type of protection," Scott told reporters. "Guys would take shots at that all the time. But it's a different league now. I don't think it's as physical or as rough, which is probably a good thing as well."
2009 NBA All-Star game
The feud had ended three years before this moment, but the symbolic images definitely served their purpose. Bryant and O'Neal played alongside each other and were coached by none other than Jackson. They also shared the co-MVP award, with Bryant scoring 27 points and Shaq adding 17 in the West's 146-119 victory over the East. The two even hugged each other.
The post-game interview featured Shaq and Mamba sitting side by side, with O'Neal calling Bryant "the best player in the league" and Bryant giving Shaq's pre-game dance an "A-plus." Beyond that, O'Neal waxed nostalgic and Bryant remained cordial.
"It felt like old times." O'Neal told reporters. "I miss those times. He was really looking for me, especially when we went to a pick-and-roll and Rashard Lewis was on me. He was really looking for me."
"We're not going to go watch 'Steel Magnolias,' or something like that, you know what I'm saying?" Bryant replied. "Crying, all that stuff. We had a good time. That's all."
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Though Kobe Bryant was voted in as a Western Conference All-Star, he decided to miss what would have been his 12th appearance because of a sprained left ankle. Credit: Andy Bernstein / NBAE