Heading into Kobe Bryant’s 18th and final All-Star Game in Toronto, the NBA and his peers praised him for what he has accomplished in the 20 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers. Before the game even started, Magic Johnson introduced the five-time champion and a tribute video played at the Air Canada Centre.
In the 196-173 victory over the Eastern Conference, Bryant finished with 10 points, six rebounds and seven assists in 25 minutes. While he was on pace for a triple-double after the first half, Russell Westbrook stole the show in the second half as he earned the Most Valuable Player award for the second consecutive season.
Following the game, Bryant talked about his final All-Star Weekend according to Sean Highkin of Pro Basketball Talk:
“It was fun,” Bryant said in his postgame press conference. “I had a blast playing with those guys, laughing and joking with them on the bench. And, you know, I got a chance to stop Pau [Gasol] in a post, redeem myself from what he did to me when Chicago came to town. But all those things are just fun. I had a great time. I had a great, great time.”
While there was sadness from his fans around the world, Bryant is at peace with his decision to retire at the end of this season. Although some thought Bryant would aim for his fifth All-Star Most Valuable Player award which would break a tie with Bob Pettit, it was evident he just wanted to enjoy this game with family and teammates.
With 27 games remaining in the season, one of the priorities will be to keep Bryant relatively healthy. If all goes according to plan, his final game will be against the Utah Jazz on April 13 at the Staples Center.