CHICAGO – Kobe Bryant’s legacy is taking center stage here at the NBA All-Star weekend.
The league is paying tribute to the former Lower Merion High School and Los Angeles Lakers great. Bryant was among nine people who died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26 outside Los Angeles. Bryant, 41, was traveling to a youth basketball function with his daughter, Gianna, 13, when the helicopter crashed.
“This is just another opportunity to memorialize him the right way,” 76ers star Ben Simmons said. “He was a such a legend. What he did for the game was just unreal.
"So I think whatever we can do to honor him is right, whether it’s going out there and playing hard and tributes. I’m definitely not going to forget this weekend.”
Sunday’s All-Star game is dedicated to Bryant, and the game’s MVP award is now called the Kobe Bryant MVP Award.
The league also changed the game’s format to elevate the entertainment level with Bryant in mind. Milwaukee Bucks power forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and Los Angeles Lakers forward/guard LeBron James were voted captains of the Eastern and Western conferences, respectively. They divided the other all-stars into two teams, Team LeBron and Team Giannis, during an on-air draft.
Team LeBron will don No. 2 in honor of Gianna, and Team Giannis will wear No. 24 for Bryant. Two was Gianna’s jersey number, while Kobe wore 24 during his final 10 NBA seasons.
In addition, patches with stars honoring all nine victims of the accident were stitched onto the players’ jerseys throughout this weekend’s events — the NBA Rising Stars games, the Skills Challenge, three-point contest and slam dunk competition. The patches have the Nos. 2 and 24 in the center surrounded by nine stars.
In addition to Bryant and Gianna, the others who lost their lives in the crash were John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli; Sarah and Payton Chester; Christina Mauser; and Ara Zobayan.
The All-Star game’s format will include an overhauled fourth quarter during which the teams play to a final target score. That score will be determined by adding the 24 points (in honor of Kobe) to the leading team’s total cumulative score through three quarters. The first team to reach the target score during the untimed fourth quarter will win the game.
Bryant concluded his career following the 2015-16 season as an 18-time All-Star. That ranks one behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most in league history. Bryant also won four All-Star game MVP awards to tie Bob Pettit for the record. As an 18-year-old rookie, he won the 1997 Slam Dunk contest.