Kobe Bryant begged fans not to do it, but they did it to him anyway, selecting him as one of the five Western Conference All-Star starters announced in a special edition of NBA Tip-Off on TNT Thursday night:
The western conference All-Star starters! pic.twitter.com/6TZGdB8WxV— Bleacher Report NBA (@BR_NBA) January 24, 2014
The 35-year-old has made just six appearances during the 2013-14 season, sidelined first by the torn Achilles that ended his 2012-13 run and currently sitting with a fracture in his left knee. He doesn't have an All-Star resume, and he knows it.
So, he's reportedly doing what the fans refused to do—taking himself out of the All-Star Game:
Kobe Bryant says he doesn't intend to play in All-Star game.— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) January 24, 2014
He told reporters that there are other players with much more compelling cases for selection, and they should be rewarded for their bodies of work, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles:
With all due respect to the fans that voted me in, I certainly appreciate that, they know how much I appreciate that, but you got to do the right thing as well. My fans know you got to reward these young guys for the work that they've been putting in.
Bryant didn't put a name to those young guns. However, he had given Portland Trail Blazers point guard and reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard (21.2 points and 5.8 assists) an endorsement earlier this season.
"My advice would be to vote for some of the younger players, the Damian Lillards of the world, because they're more than deserving to be out there and play during that weekend," he said earlier this month, via Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times.
If Bryant doesn't play, who should take his starting spot?
Bryant's selection, the 16th of his 18-year career, hardly comes as a surprise. The five-time champion has established himself as one of the game's all-time greats and is one of the few living legends in the sport.
"Kobe's Kobe," Gasol said, via McMenamin. "There's only one of him, and I think people want to see him. It is what it is. That's how the system works."
That system could make it tough for Bryant to wiggle out of this appearance if he's back in action before the world's greatest pickup game on Feb. 16. As NBC Sports' Kurt Helin noted, "If Kobe is healthy enough to play for the Lakers prior to the All-Star Game he would have to get a special waiver from the NBA to skip the All-Star game, and that’s not likely."
As for his health, McMenamin reports Bryant "will be re-evaluated either Monday or Tuesday of next week." He has not played since suffering the knee injury on Dec. 17, thus making his case that he shouldn't be an All-Star.
If only it were that simple. Like Gasol said, Kobe is Kobe.
He'll be an All-Star in the fans' eyes until he's out of this league.