Kobe Bryant shows veteran's perspective on the NBA All-Star game
There's usually a protocol in these games when the Lakers need a game-winning basket.
Call timeout. Draw a play that will get Kobe Bryant open. And let the Black Mamba take care of the rest. The same logic could apply to the NBA All-Star game. But there was one slight problem when the Western Conference trailed by two and needed a game-winning basket to secure the 2010 NBA All-Star game.
Bryant wasn't there.
He sat out an All-Star game for the first time because of a sprained left ankle, a decision that he delayed as long as possible. That's why when he saw Carmelo Anthony miss the potential game winner, it pained him both from a friendship standpoint and from a team perspective as he sat on the sideline at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
A year later, Bryant will make his 12th All-Star appearance and he's waxing nostalgic, recalling when in 1998 he became the youngest NBA player, at 19, to be voted in as a starter for the All-Star game.
The reason for the nostalgia: He missed last season's game.
"Oh yeah, it becomes a little bit more special," Bryant said. "I don't know how much longer I'll be playing for it. For a player to have an All-Star game in his hometown twice, it's pretty cool and pretty neat."
That game in 2004 entailed much different circumstances. All week, reports emerged of problems with Bryant and Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, Bryant and the Lakers and Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal. Then, Bryant arrived 30 minutes late to Staples Center and missed the team photo, apparently because of 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 problems earlier in the week.
This year, Bryant and Pau Gasol will play side by side and expressed giddiness over the possibility of playing together after Bryant's injury prevented it last year. The game in 1998 featured Bryant guarding All-Star MVP Michael Jordan and leading the West with 18 points, six rebounds and two steals despite missing the entire fourth quarter, an intriguing plot line that showcased Bryant, presumed to be the new torchbearer of the league.
Prior to the 2011 game, Bryant showed how his influence affected other players. He pulled aside Blake Griffin and gave him advice on the dunk contest. He chatted with Anthony, who's credited Bryant for mentoring him during the uncertainty regarding his playing future. And he declined to attempt to break the Guinness Book of World Records mark for three-point shots made by a duo, allowing Kevin Durant and Dirk Nowitzki instead to break the mark set moments earlier by Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.
"It's not really my concern," Bryant said with a chuckle.
There were other things he's not stressing about either. He acknowledged All-Star games have a more "relaxed environment" than regular-season games. He insisted he's flexible about being a scorer, such as when his 31 points in the 2000 All-Star game earned him his first All-Star MVP, or a facilitator, such as when he passed the ball to Tim Duncan for a failed game-winning attempt in the 2001 All-Star game. And he didn't worry about how the roles would shape.
But here's something that will be a concern -- being able to play in a game that he missed last season.
"I'm sure if the game comes to a point where the West needs a game-winning shot," Gasol said, "I'm sure he'll step up and take it. "What better scenario than doing it at Staples Center here in L.A."
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