Sending his retirement farewell into hyperdrive, the 65th NBA All-Star Game will not only showcase the league’s best players but will also serve as the beginning of the end of Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant’s career Sunday night in Toronto.
The 38-year-old superstar will make his 18th and final All-Star appearance for a Western Conference lineup hoping to claim a fifth victory over the Eastern Conference in the last six years.
After he announced plans to retire earlier this season, fans rewarded Bryant by voting him into the game with 1.9 million votes cast, by far the highest total of any player this season and yet another badge of honor for the NBA’s third all-time leading scorer and four-time All-Star Game MVP.
Bryant will join the West’s starting lineup of Warriors guard Stephen Curry, Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, and Thunder forward Kevin Durant and Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard. Last year the West prevailed 163-158 behind game MVP Westbrook’s 41 points.
And while players like Westbrook, who’s making his fifth All-Star appearance, might view the game as old-hat, many took the time to honor Bryant throughout the weekend.
“Me growing up in Los Angeles and being able to see Kobe, obviously he’s one of the greatest players to play the game,” Westbrook told NBC Sports. “It was a true honor to be able to learn from him. It’s a great experience to be able to learn different things from him, not just on the floor but off the floor as well and very different experiences.”
The East will try to counter their opponents guard-heavy and quicker lineup, as well as all the emotions surrounding Bryant’s final appearance, with Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James in his 12th All-Star Game.
James was the East’s leading vote getter, finding his name on more than a million ballots this year, and he’ll start beside fellow 12-time All-Star and former Heat teammate Dwyane Wade, Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, Pacers forward Paul George, and Raptors guard Kyle Lowry.
However, unlike last year when the West deatl with myriad injuries up and down its roster, the East will miss two players due to injury. Heat forward Chris Bosh pulled out of both the Three-Point Shooting contest and the All-Star Game after suffering a right calf injury and the league named Hawks forward Al Horford his replacement.
Bulls guard Jimmy Butler, who’s still recovering from a left knee strain, will also sit out but teammate and forward Pau Gasol has taken his spot.
Start Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: TNT
Live Stream: TNT Overtime
Betting Odds: West -5.5
Over/Under: 318.5 points