Kobe Bryant stood on the court, clapping his hands over his head in appreciation of the moment and the love, showered once again in applause as he walked off into the sunset of his NBA all-star game career.
After 18 consecutive starts, the most by one player in the history of the game, Bryant’s emotional run through the sport’s mid-season celebration came to an end at the Air Canada Centre on Sunday.
Putting some shine on a somewhat dull game full of three-point shooting and void of a lot of effort, Bryant bid adieu to the all-star weekend with 10 points in 26 minutes as the West beat the East 196-173 in the highest-scoring all-star game in NBA history.
But the stats don’t matter, the game — and much of the weekend, actually — was about Bryant, his contributions to the sport, his impending retirement and his storied all-star career.
“I think the game is in a beautiful place,” Bryant said.
”I had a blast playing with those guys, laughing and joking with them on the bench. And, you know, I got a chance to stop Pau [Gasol] in a post, redeem myself from what he did to me when Chicago came to town. But all those things are just fun. I had a great time. I had a great, great time.”
The game, for historical purposes mainly, shattered several scoring records.
The previous record for combined point was 321, set last season and it was shattered with more than half the fourth quarter to go; the 196 total points for the winners easily eclipsed the earlier mark of 163.
It was a ridiculous shooting night — continuing a ridiculous shooting trend in the league — as the teams combined to attempt 139 three-point field goals, making 51.
Fittingly, the last one was the most impressive, an effortless half-court jump shot by the incomparable Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors.
Paul George of the Indiana Pacers finished with 41 points, including an all-star game record nine three-pointers, one point off the all-star game record held by Wilt Chamberlain. Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder had 31 points and eight assists in winning his second straight most valuable player award.
Kyle Lowry of the Raptors had 14 points and 10 assists while Raptors teammate DeMar DeRozan had 18 points.
It was an emotional night for George, who missed nearly all the 2014-15 season after suffering a gruesome injury.
“I had a hard-fought summer, hard-fought rehab year, it was just a very upward climb,” he said. “It took every day and really every moment of rehab to get through it. There were a lot of days where I felt like I was down and out, but just stayed with it.”
But the night belonged mainly to Bryant, who played 26 minutes and had 10 points, which left him two points behind LeBron James for career all-star game scoring.
With NBA icons Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson looking on approvingly from their front row seat, Bryant got not one, but two video tributes before the game and was feted by fellow Laker icon Magic Johnson in a pre-game ceremony.
“You remember all the struggles against him and all the competitiveness and you respect him so much for bringing it night after night after night,” said Gregg Popovich, the West coach Sunday and a conference rival of Bryant’s for almost 20 years. “You know, a lot of players don’t understand that responsibility to be able to do that at that level, and he does it fiercely for all these years.
“So to see him now, it’s like the passing of a generation much he’s been such an iconic figure for so long, and he passes it on to that other group of young guys that you saw out there tonight. So I’m just thrilled that I was able to be here and see that.”