Team LeBron defeated Team Giannis 157-155 in the 69th NBA All-Star game on Sunday (February 16) and Kawhi Leonard was named the Kia NBA All-Star Game Kobe Bryant MVP.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced on Saturday (February 15th) that the award is now permanently named after the Los Angeles Lakers legend.
“Kobe Bryant is synonymous with NBA All-Star and embodies the spirit of this global celebration of our game,” said Silver. “He always relished the opportunity to compete with the best of the best and perform at the highest level for millions of fans around the world.”
Reigning league MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo said Bryant was the player he admired the most growing up, and the two shared a close personal relationship.
“A guy that mentored me in the last few years of my career, a guy that was always there for me,” Antetokounmpo said. “In the regular season, the playoffs, a guy that told me that whenever I need something, I could just reach out to him, and he was literally always there. If I needed something, he would text me back, call me….There was a quote that said that talent is worthless if you're not willing to share it, right? And he was one of those guys that was sharing his talent with us, and he's going to be definitely missed.”
Bryant was the youngest ever player to appear in an All-Star game at 19 (1998). He was an 18-time All-Star selection, second most in NBA history behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (19). Bryant holds the NBA record for consecutive All-Star selections as he was honored 18 straight times from 1998-2016, and is tied for the most All-Star game MVPs (4).
His spirit was very much alive and well all weekend in Chicago. From the various tributes from players past and present, fans, jerseys, and his posthumous Naismith Hall of Fame finalist selection.
“For us to be able to honor Kobe Bryant and his legacy, it’s a beautiful time,” said LeBron James during media day. “Even in a loss, it’s a beautiful time. We know that he’s watching over us.”
It’s fitting that Kawhi Leonard was the first to win the Kobe Bryant MVP. He embodies the “Mamba Mentality”, the ethos that drove Bryant to rarefied heights in sports and life.
Leonard aschews all of the frills and fame that being a player of his caliber yields and is completely dedicated to his craft. He works tirelessly to be the best version of himself and win.
Following the game, he talked about his relationship with Bryant and his commitment to winning.
“Words can’t explain how happy I am for it. To be able to put that trophy in my trophy room, and just to be able to see Kobe’s name on there,” Leonard said. “It just means a lot to me. He’s a big inspiration in my life. He did a lot for me.”
Following the game several players reflected on the significance of the award being named after Bryant, beginning with Ben Simmons.
Pascal Siakam talked about the respect his generation of players have for Bryant.
Joel Embiid said, “it was probably the best All-Star game ever.” Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. But the spirit of Kobe Bryant was undeniable throughout.