• Kaunda Chama

Kawhi shines, Kobe honoured at All-Star Game 2020

At the start of this year’s NBA All-Star Weekend, it was announced the All-Star Game MVP award would be named after NBA legend Kobe Bryant, who recently died in a helicopter accident. This naturally motivated the 24 participants in the event to try and get their hands on the first one.

Then award’s winner Kawhi Leonard maintained his elite level play and almost matched an All-Star Game record of three-pointers made.

Although he clearly found it difficult to articulate how he felt after winning the award, Leonard scored 30 points and made eight three-pointers to lead Team LeBron to a 157-155 victory over Team Giannis last night.

Leonard grew up a Kobe fan in the Los Angeles-area and was a regular workout partner of the recently named Hall-of-Fame finalist.

Before the game tipped off, there were numerous tributes to Bryant, his daughter and late NBA Commissioner Emeritus David Stern.

The tone was set by Lakers legend Magic Johnson, who appeared onstage before tipoff and asked fans for an eight-second moment of silence.

The, award-winning Chicago-born songstress Jennifer Hudson, sang "For All We Know" in Kobe’s honor.

To cap off the introductory tributes, rapper/actor Common delivered an ode to his hometown Chicago and Kobe with "If This City Could Talk."

After many seasons of fans complaining that the All-Star Game lacked a competitive edge, it was obvious to see that the 69th edition was different in many ways: both from a feel and format perspective.

It was almost as if the spirit of Kobe and his Mamba Mentality had filled the entire United Center in downtown Chicago. Some of his peers and competitors and the pupils he once mentored came together to honor the18-time All-Star and play a game that was definitely inspired by him.

Once the somber mood created by the tributes was parked, the game tipped off with the tenacity of a regular or post season game. The game was so competitive from start to finish, especially in the last quarter, one would have thought there were a couple of Kobes on that hardwood.

Commenting on the win and the MVP accolade, Leonard said: “My mindset is always just to try to make my team the best team at the end of the season, and if I'm fortunate enough to win a regular season MVP, then I'll be happy with it. I always just want to win championships. I'm not really concerned with the personal goal. So I always just want to play on an MVP level so my team can win.”

The LA Clippers forward, who also had a personal relationship with the late Kobe also said: “It's very special. I had a relationship with him. Words can't explain how happy I am for it. I am able to put that trophy in my trophy room, and just be able to see Kobe's name on there, it just means a lot to me. He's a big inspiration in my life. He did a lot for me.”

The winning captain, LeBron James was happy to clinch yet another win after the introduction of the new All-Star drafting process. “I didn't know what to expect because it was a new format, new year. None of us knew what to expect. But throughout the whole fourth quarter and at the end of the game, everybody was like, that was pretty damn fun,” he said. “You could definitely feel Kobe’s presence just from the start. From every moment from the fans chanting his name till you see the numbers. Every time you saw Giannis' team run on the floor, you saw the 2-4. So he was definitely here.”

In an effort to bring back the competitiveness into the All-Star Game, the league had introduced a new format: The first three quarters were played separately, with the winning team after each quarter earning money for a local charity; the fourth quarter was played without a clock and with a set final score, first team to reach it earning the win.

The move certainly produced good results, which included heavily contested final quarter, Giannis Antetokounmpo blocking shots by James and Anthony Davis and a showdown between Leonard and Cameroonian sensation Joel Embiid down the stretch.

On the game’s final possession, Kyle Lowry was caught in a defensive switch and Davis, who missed the first free throw, but made the second. “I told my team I was going miss the first free throw to put more pressure on myself,” he joked after the game.

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