The least surprising outcome of the night, in my opinion Kobe Bryant setting another NBA All-Star game record, this time winning a fifth MVP, after forgetting this is also about superstars working together, not just enhancing their own brand name, and putting on a ball-hogging performance for generations to enjoy.
Rewind to two years ago – The Los Angeles Lakers, the NBA champions, are struggling. Kobe Bryant is going through his worst NBA season, individually, since his earliest years in the NBA. The All-Star game arrives. LeBron James is the reigning MVP, getting all the attention and the hate in the world after leaving to the Miami Heat. Kevin Durant is the rising darling of the NBA. Derrick Rose is a trendy MVP pick already. Bryant needs to put on a show.
What does he do? Simply ignore the rest of his teammates, and scored 37 points, outdoing Kevin Durant (and not thinking once upon a time to pass to the better player), leading the Western Conference to a 148-143 win, while taking 26 field goal attempts. Kevin Durant learns from the ball-hog master and wins the MVP of the All-Star the next season, not that it means anything about what happens later.
LeBron James was criticized and analyzed last year for not trying to take the potential game-tying shot. Words and words were written about his clutch ability, his fear of trying to handle the load in the final quarter and what not. Kobe Bryant? Kevin Durant? Heralded as clutch masters, fearless shooters and players, who thrive under pressure.
Fast forward a few months, maybe a year. LeBron James is the NBA champion, with nothing to prove, going through the best period of his career with his streak of 30 points games while finding it really hard to take a bad shot, let alone miss one in general. Kevin Durant and his Oklahoma City Thunder team were humiliated at home by the Heat. Kobe Bryant? His Lakers are going nowhere. He’s one of the worst performers in the NBA this season during the final minutes of a game on the line. Being an All-Star king seems like the only thing to make him feel better. If he outshines Dwight Howard, and he will, will only make him feel better.
People obsessed about their individual success and status wait a bit more anxiously for the day they can shine in the biggest exhibition game in the world. Maybe, they think, it puts them above others. Kobe Bryant, always torn between the need to show how good he is and the need to win more than anything else, combines into something quite special in the All-Star game. Regardless of his struggles in recent games, and all of the problems with his team, he puts everything into trying to outshine his colleagues when it doesn’t matter. In 2013, it shouldn’t be any different.