Kobe Bryant was the final player introduced at the Air Canada Centre on Sunday, a nice tip of the cap to an 18-time All-Star and two-time Finals MVP who has become, at 37, the NBA’s elder statesman. The crowd roared, a video played, Kobe spoke.
It was nice.
“I thought he did a good job of putting into perspective and showing his appreciation for all of the love he’s gotten on this farewell tour,” NBA.com writer Sekou Smith said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “It was done really well tonight, from the intros at the start of the game to a tribute from Magic to everybody acknowledging him. And then the fans – he got some of the biggest cheers of the night inside the Air Canada Centre.”
Bryant had 10 points, six rebounds and seven assists in his final All-Star Game – ho-hum numbers by All-Star standards. Russell Westbrook, the game’s MVP, had 31 points, eight rebounds, five assists and five steals. Paul George scored a game-high 41.
“To me, Kobe has really handled this well,” Smith said. “He’s been gracious. He got a little emotional tonight. I thought he was going to get choked up when he made some remarks to the crowd, but he held it together, and he’s been good about understanding his place in the game now, that he’s no longer that alpha dog anymore. He’s not trying to do things that he can’t do. He knew to let the young guys – Westbrook, Paul George and all these guys – have the stage tonight. It wasn’t about just him. I think he did a nice job getting out of the way and letting the young guys do their thing.”
Which is ironic given that Bryant hasn’t done that this season with the Lakers (11-44), who have the second-worst record in the NBA.
“Look, the Lakers situation is totally different,” Smith said. “I talked to D’Angelo Russell over the weekend and he’s dealing with a lot of drama as a rookie, trying to find his way and knowing that the Lakers are all about Kobe and this farewell tour. But you really don’t have a choice in L.A. The Lakers have to maximize Kobe’s last season. They have to fill that building every night, and they’re not going to do it based on their team and how they’re playing. So it has to be about Kobe and people getting that chance to snap pics of him one last time, to see him on the court against all these different teams one last time. The Lakers will have a chance to clean the mess up after Kobe’s gone, but it won’t get done until he walks off into the sunset. This season is about Kobe and they’ve made that abundantly clear to everybody.”