Kobe Bryant: Was His NBA All-Star Game MVP Award His Last Stand As a Star?
At the NBA All-Star Game this past weekend, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant showed fans around the nation that he is still very much a star, scoring 37 points and earning All-Star MVP honors for the fourth time.
The 13-time All-Star, Bryant, who has had one of the most storied careers of any player in NBA history, has been a star ever since he came into the league nearly 15 years ago.
As an 18-years-old rookie, Bryant showed off his athleticism by winning the All-Star Slam Dunk competition.
As the Lakers' sixth man, the second-year Bryant was already so popular that he was voted in as a starter for the All-Star game.
Bryant appeared on the cover of the video game NBA Courtside 98, as he became the youngest player to have a game to his namesake.
After a 12-year drought, the Lakers won three consecutive NBA titles, with Bryant as well as center Shaquille O'Neal leading the way.
The Lakers won at least 50 games each of the next two seasons, including another NBA Finals appearance in 2004.
O'Neal was traded after the 2004 finals and the Lakers began to struggle, but Bryant did not fall off the map whatsoever.
During this time, Bryant entered the prime ages of 26-28.
So, even though the Lakers averaged just 42 wins over three seasons, Bryant won multiple scoring titles and was widely considered the best player in the game.
In the middle of the 2007-2008 season, the Lakers acquired Pau Gasol and Los Angeles once again became the team to beat in the Western Conference.
Bryant won his first MVP award and the Lakers reached the finals for the first time in four years.
Right after the NBA Finals, Kobe Bryant competed for Team USA in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
The United States went on to win gold with Bryant leading the way and further establishing himself as the world's best in basketball.
With Pau Gasol playing his first full season in Los Angeles, the Lakers won back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010, with Bryant earning NBA Finals MVP honors each season.
Currently the No. 3 seed in the West, the Lakers have been surprisingly inconsistent this season, but are still very much contenders for another championship.
Bryant leads league in points per 48 minutes this season and received the most All-Star votes of any player
Television ratings for Los Angeles Laker broadcasts are up close to 50 percent from last season and the Lakers have received a significant chunk of media attention in their quest for a three-peat.
The buzz in Los Angeles is still very much alive.
Thus, Bryant has not left the spotlight, going all the way back to his rookie season.
However, Bryant's reign as an NBA star inevitably cannot last forever. Bryant is not as quick as he once was, and is dealing with a sprained pinky on his shooting hand, along with a sore left ankle the last couple seasons.
It is impressive that the 32-year-old Bryant has been able to perform in his prime up until now. After all, Bryant has played in 175 playoff games and competed in the Olympics, along with nearly 15 regular seasons worth of games.
No NBA player trains harder than Bryant, who prior to the start of each season, begins running, shooting and lifting weeks before anybody else.
We have yet to see a player dominate the league past 35—Michael Jordan's age when he won his last championship with the Bulls.
Modern advancements in medicine and technology have played a major factor in helping Bryant.
Other stars such as Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash have also been extended their primes into the 30s. But the window of stardom for all these players is still closing quickly.
There won't be a definitive moment when Bryant suddenly stops being a star in this league—rather, we will witness a gradual progression instead.
This season, Bryant's minutes are down and he has been more of a shooter than a finisher at the rim, likely due to reduced quickness and energy.
Lately, Bryant has followed a trend of being more of a distributor during the beginning of games, then taking over in crunch-time.
This strategy has worked out well, as we have seen Bryant almost single-handedly close out games for the Lakers this season.
Many still consider Bryant to be the best player in the game today, or at least in the top five.
Either way, we should expect guys like Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard, among others, to be clear-cut bigger stars than Bryant within a few years.
Bryant will still very likely be voted into All-Star games for several more seasons. We have seen Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan get voted into the All-Star game up until their early 40s.
Further, Bryant will likely have the same motivation for years to come, as he has the opportunity to win a sixth or seventh title and potentially become the all-time NBA leader in points scored.
Whereas Bryant will more than likely finish his career as a Laker, you might see attempts by the Lakers to acquire another superstar—such as Chris Paul, Deron Williams or Dwight Howard—all of whom will be free agents in the summer of 2012.
Even without a new superstar, NBA talent is becoming so skewed towards the Eastern Conference that the Lakers could very well contend in the West for a few more seasons, so Bryant may not be exiting the spotlight just yet.
Bryant probably won't win any more All-Star Game MVPs nor appear on the cover of any NBA video games, but you can count on at least a few more seasons from him as a star player at the top of his game in the NBA.
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