As the countdown to the NBA All-Star Game continues, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant is showing the basketball world why he received the most fan votes of any player in the game and will be starting for the Western Conference squad in his remarkable 18th All-Star appearance.
The Lakers season to this point has been anything but sensational, including the struggles of Bryant who announced he will be retiring at the end of the year. But there have still been glimpses of familiar greatness from the future Hall of Famer who refuses to go out quietly.
Kobe seems to be reaching his peak, showing signs of explosiveness that we haven’t seen from him in a few years. In Tuesday’s win against Minnesota, Bryant scored a season-high 38 points, helping the Lakers snap their franchise record 10-game losing streak.
Of course, this outburst came as no surprise to the Black Mamba who expects a high level of play every time he steps on the floor.
“You’ve seen it for 20 damn years,” Bryant said after the game. “What do you expect?”
Kobe’s effort is certainly being noticed, especially by Lakers coach Byron Scott who knows what Bryant has been through over his 19-year NBA career.
“I appreciate the fact that he’s out there competing like he has for 20 years,” Scott said. “His body can’t do it like he used to, but his mind is still as sharp as a tack. He still has that will, and I marvel at that.”
Bryant followed up Tuesday’s performance with another stellar effort on Thursday night in New Orleans, scoring 27 points and grabbing 12 rebounds, leading LA to 99-96 win over Anthony Davis and the Pelicans. He hit three crucial 3-pointers in the final 6:05 of the game, helping the Lakers secure their second consecutive victory. After his season ended with a rotator cuff injury last season in New Orleans, Kobe was glad to leave the Big Easy for the last time with a much more desirable result.
“It was really special to be able to play in front of this crowd,” Bryant said when asked about hearing his clutch shots being cheered on the road. “It makes me feel great. It makes me feel like all the hard work I put in through the years has been worth it.”
Bryant ended his superb week with another throwback performance on Saturday night against the Spurs. In his last game in San Antonio, he scored 25 points and had the Spurs crowd chanting his name for probably the first and last time ever. Despite losing by 4 points, Bryant’s efforts were admired by everyone in the building.
“I watched him growing up,” said Lakers guard and San Antonio native Jordan Clarkson. “I watched him kill the Spurs.”
“It’s like watching Michael (Jordan),” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “I was just watching. It was great. It was great. We made some mistakes. He took advantage of it. He’s fantastic.”
After rising to hit a 3-pointer with Kawhi Leonard directly in his face contesting the attempt, Bryant turned to injured Spurs forward Tim Duncan on the bench and shrugged his shoulders.
“He was like, ‘No way,’ and I was like ‘Dude,’ ” Bryant said. “What could I do? I miss the easy ones and make some B.S. like that. I don’t even know what to tell you. It was Tim’s version of a yell, so it was a strong whisper.”
While it’s unlikely that Kobe will be able to continue playing at an All-Star pace in his final season, it has certainly been a thrill for Laker fans to see their idol put on a show and remind us of his immortal greatness one last time.