With the final season of his career winding down, Kobe Bryant will compete in his last NBA All-Star Game on Sunday. The Los Angeles Lakers star is no longer among the league’s top players, but he could have a big night in Toronto.
Playing almost his entire career at shooting guard, Bryant was elected to the 2016 Western Conference All-Star Team as a small forward. He’ll start in the game for a record-setting 15th time with a chance to make even more history.
Whether it’s been in the playoffs or in the All-Star Game, Bryant has a knack for shining in the biggest moments. In All-Star history, he ranks first in points scored and field goals made. He’s tied for first with Michael Jordan in steals, and he's six three-pointers away from LeBron James’ all-time mark of 27. Bryant will surpass Wilt Chamberlain for second place in minutes played, and his 20 points per game are good for 10th all time.
Perhaps most impressive are Bryant’s four All-Star MVP trophies. He shares the honor with Bob Pettit, who won the award four times as a member of the St. Louis Hawks.
Bryant won the award for the first time in 2002, followed by MVP performances in 2007 and 2009. In 2011, Bryant had one of the most memorable performances in All-Star history, scoring 37 points in his 12th appearance. Adding 14 rebounds, three assists and three steals, Bryant recorded the fourth-highest scoring total in All-Star Game history at the time.
It’s hard to imagine Bryant having a similar performance on Sunday at 37 years old. Playing in his 20th NBA season, Bryant is no longer the scorer he once was. He is averaging just 16.9 points per game on a career-low 34.9 percent shooting. Bryant is only making 28 percent of his three-point attempts, and he’s been held to 10 points or less on 10 different occasions this season.
But Bryant has turned back the clock on a few occasions, and Sunday could present a similar opportunity. Less than two weeks ago, Bryant scored 38 points on 21 field-goal attempts, converting seven of his 11 shots from behind the arc. Defense is often nonexistent in NBA All-Star games, and players on the West will give Bryant every chance to have a big night.
"Anytime I'm on the floor and Kobe's on the floor and he asks for the ball I'm giving it to him," New Orleans Pelicans All-Star Anthony Davis told reporters.
Given that it’s his last All-Star Game, voters might be more apt to give Bryant the nod for MVP. Despite having the worst season of anyone in Sunday’s game, he’s the favorite to win the award.
Having been one of the NBA’s best players for such a long time, Bryant is respected around the league. When All-Stars like Davis, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry were still in grade school, Bryant was winning championships as one of the league’s top players. Even before LeBron James and Dwyane Wade reached the NBA, Bryant had already won three titles.
“For guys who played against him in his prime and guys who got a chance to play with him period, we just all have ultimate respect for the competitor, first of all, that Kobe Bryant was with the talent to go with it,” Wade told Yahoo Sports. “The championships. Everything that he did brings nothing but respect from everyone in the league."
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the league will “do something special” on Sunday for Bryant, who led all players with nearly two million votes.