This NBA all-star weekend has been a celebration of the life and times of Kobe Bryant and it will surely continue unabated Sunday night when the Los Angeles Lakers icon bids adieu on the most global of stages.
And if it hasn’t been about Bryant’s last all-star game, it’s been about Golden State’s Stephen Curry and his local ties and his unimaginable skills and creativity and personable nature; a perfect juxtaposed story to the departing Bryant.
And there in a back corner of a group interview room early Saturday afternoon, surrounded by a swarm of reporters but not nearly as great a swarm as he is used to at these events, sat LeBron James. He is still in many ways The King but also in many ways a bit player on this weekend’s stage.
It seems unimaginable that James, who will play in the 12th all-star game of his 13-year career Sunday at the Air Canada Centre, could be just another all-star but that’s been an undercurrent to the weekend.
He probably doesn’t mind not being in the harshest corner of the spotlight because he’s been there so often and he is absolutely savvy enough to understand the situation.
“I remember when I was a youngster, I was in the 10th or 11th grade, and it was MJ’s (Michael Jordan’s) last all-star game so it kind of has that same kind of feeling,” James said.
“We have so many great athletes in our game, it’s never on one guy to carry the whole load. Our game is made up of so many different make-ups, so many different countries, so many different players, shapes, sizes . . . so we all do our part to make sure the shield is protected.”
Protecting the shield is taken from an NFL mantra and the NBA might not appreciate being too closely with that scandal-plagued league, but James was right in his assessment of this crop of all-stars.
There are four first-timers — Golden State’s Draymond Green, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, Boston’s Isaiah Thomas and Detroit’s Andre Drummond — there are long-time regulars like New York’s Carmelo Anthony and Chicago’s Pau Gasol, and there are the dueling backcourts of Toronto’s Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and Golden State’s Curry and Klay Thompson.
And then there is Bryant.
“I think you have the appreciation level for Kobe, it being his last all-star game and everybody is caught up,” DeRozan said. “LeBron is still so young and has so much time to go, he’s still here.
“He’s still up there but one of the greatest of all time is walking away from the game, you’ve just got to respect that it’s Kobe’s last one . . . once he’s gone, I’m sure LeBron will have plenty more and his time.”
Twice an all-star game most valuable player and still only 31 years old, James should have as many more years as he wants at this event. He may not be the featured attraction Sunday but he’s not on the periphery entirely.
“I give a lot to the game, for my craft and what I dedicate the game on a daily basis, I hope I’m not taken for granted,” he said.
“I put so much into not only what I want to be out there but for my teammates, for my fans and things of that nature so I hope I’m appreciated for what I do.”