By Leland Stein III –
The 60th annual NBA All-Star game did not set a Guinness World Record of 108,713 basketball fans from around the globe like the 2010 game did at Cowboys Stadium last year.
Instead 17,163, including a celebrity filled contingent, descended on Staple Center in Downtown Los Angeles and were not disappointed, as their favorite son, fivetime NBA Finals champion Kobe Bryant helped his Western Conference teammates avenge the Eastern Conference’s 141-139 victory in the 2010 game.
From the start of the 2011 contest Bryant, who missed last year's game in Dallas with an ankle injury, was a step faster and seemed more determined than anyone else on the floor.
By halftime he had tossed in 21 points, and by game’s end he had 37 points and 14 rebounds in the Western Conference's 148-143 victory.
The NBA’s younger generation of players are starting to prove that the league is in good shape on the floor, but Bryant, a 15-year veteran, reminded all the there is still a lot of juice in his legs. Making his 13th NBA all-star appearance, but playing his last All-Star Game in Los Angeles, he joined Bob Pettit as the only other player to win four All-Star Game MVP trophies after winning the honor Sunday night.
"I feel like we have a sense of responsibility,” Bryant said, “because we are voted in for what we do during the season, which is play hard. And we come here, that's what the fans want to see. They want to see us go at it and see us compete and that's what I try to do and that's what I try to tell my teammates to do.
"Being home, I wanted to come out and play hard, put on a good show. This being my last all-star game in front of these fans, it feels good. Sure this is made more special for that reason . . . I understand it will not be back before I retire.”
Said Chris Paul: “Kobe was outstanding. I talked to him before the game and told him let’s go. He is a lot like me . . . an ultimate competitor. I know the All-Star games are supposed to be fun and games, but at the end of the day we want to win.”
Bryant tied Kevin Garnett for the fourth-highest scoring game in all-star history, and moved into fourth place on the career all-star scoring list with 244 points. Bryant said he was aware he was closing in on Wilt Chamberlain's single-game record of 42 points, but didn't have the legs to finish the fourth period after throwing down four dunks. "Man I had nothing left," Bryant said. "I exceeded my dunk quota for the game."
Bryant was also involved in the play of the games, as he dribbled up the court and looked over to his right, where LeBron James was sprinting back to implement his now famous chase down block shot. Bryant picked up steam and soared toward the rim throwing down a two-handed dunk as James flew over the top.
"I wanted to see if I could avoid the LeBron chase down," Bryant said, with a sly grin on his face. "I told him afterwards, if I had tried to go over the rim, like get up, he probably would have blocked it with his armpit. I kind of snuck it by him."
Said James: “He was unbelievable tonight. You definitely saw his motor was going tonight."
Added Kevin Durant, who chipped in with 34 points: "It was like playing in a playground. I’ve watched him and now I play against him, but to be on his team and see the things that he was doing out there is just amazing."
Russell Westbrook, scored 12 points and Paul added 10 for the West.
After being down by as much as 16 point, James gave his East squad a firm speech. It seemed to work as the East fought back over the last seven minutes of the fourth quarter to narrow the lead to two point with under one minute left in the game.
Leading the way for the East, James produced an MVP performance finishing with 29 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists to join Michael Jordan as the only other player with a tripledouble in the All-Star game. Amare Stoudemire also scored 29 for the East, but Dwyane Wade, the MVP of the East's win last year, had to leave with an ankle injury after scoring 14 "I wish the East would've won, then my teammate with the triple-double would have stole (the MVP)," Wade said. "But (Bryant) deserved it."
Leland Stein can be reached at email@example.com.
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