The 1998 All-Star Game turned out to be an unexpected showcase for the NBA, as it displayed players during their prime and a new generation of up and coming stars. The likes of Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, and Gary Payton had already solidified themselves as future Hall-of-Famers, while Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd, and Grant Hill led the up and coming generation.
This day in Los Angeles Lakers history provides an opportunity to reflect upon one of Bryant’s greatest accomplishments. Bryant was just getting his footing in the NBA at the time, in his second season after being acquired by the Lakers during a draft-day trade.
The All-Star selections were made official, and became Bryant the youngest starter ever selected for an All-Star Game at 19 years and 170 days old. He broke the record held by Magic Johnson.
The 1998 McDonald’s NBA All-Star Voting Program provided the results to the national media, highlighting a tremendous accomplishment for the emerging talent. Although not predicted at the time, the Lakers were headed down a championship path with Bryant and fellow All-Star starter Shaquille O’Neal as their franchise pillars.
Bryant put together a stellar first-half campaign up until Jan. 23, appearing in 37 games for the Lakers. In 26.2 minutes per game, he averaged 17.3 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.2 steals per game.
Another interesting point to the All-Star selection for the Western Conference was Bryant’s counterpart in the East. He would start opposing Jordan, who set a then-record by being the leading vote-getter for a ninth time.
Bryant would later reveal that a personal goal of his was to attack Jordan on the court since their first matchup, to test himself against the best in the game. Jordan would go on to capture the All-Star Game MVP honors in what would be his last time with the Chicago Bulls.
As far as his production in the game, Bryant would shine in the limelight. He threw down a series of dunks that got the crowd on their feet, including a tremendous finish on a lob from Garnett.
No. 8 was also able to break away early in the first quarter for a 360-slam dunk on a beautiful outlet from O’Neal, with his electric flush exciting the crowd.
Bryant finished the game with 18 points, six rebounds, one assist and two steals. The East team went on to route the West with a 135-114 victory in front of the fans at Madison Square Garden.
However, Bryant was able to demonstrate the elite capabilities he had at such a young age to New York and all of the NBA.