NBA: The Best and Worst of Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant in the All-Star Game

Matt Parker@@parkem24Contributor IIIFebruary 22, 2011

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 20:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Western Conference shakes hands with NBA Commissioner David Stern after Bryant was named MVP for the fourth time in the 2011 NBA All-Star Game at Staples Center on February 20, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Kobe Bean Bryant is a chucker. He shoots first (and second) and gives interviews later.

Bryant made the 60th NBA All-Star game his and, simultaneously, took it away from everyone else.

That is, until LeBron James had his say. You see, James had seen this tired act before, in Las Vegas in 2007 and again in Phoenix two years ago.

Bryant's formula for All-Star success is a simple one: shoot every time you touch the ball, chase down every loose ball and, if push comes to shove, induce fouls.

Bryant has attempted at least 23 shots in the All-Star game four times. Each time, he was named the game's MVP. Sunday was no different, though no less easy to stomach.

So why not start the game guns-ablazing?

Now don't get me wrong, I love it when guys go hard in games that others claim don't matter.

In fact, Kobe's first quarter didn't bother me at all (even though he shot the ball seven times en route to 11 points). Michael Jordan's focus and energy in the midseason showcase would often raise the level of play amongst his peers.

(Any All-Star game you watch that Doug Collins does will undoubtedly have him gushing over Jordan's 1997 effort, when he led the East back from a double-digit second quarter deficit on his way to the first triple-double in All-Star game history and the victory.)

Kobe's effort and focus in the first quarter legitimized the contest; it let everyone in the building know that this game matters.

Unfortunately, it didn't matter to anyone else until the East had dug itself what turned out to be too big a hole.

My favorite player is Dwyane Wade, so when I saw Kobe strip him twice in the first six minutes, I was excited to see how Wade would respond to the challenge.

Again, it's not his effort that bothers me; it's his motives.

His only focus was winning MVP. He wasn't looking for newcomers Blake Griffin, Kevin Love or Russell Westbrook, nor Lakers teammate Pau Gasol.

He was looking only for any opportunity to let everybody know that he was the best player on the court. And since the LA crowd appreciates the tangible more than that which is tougher to define, goals like most points and MVP dominated Bryant's focus.

However, it was James in defeat who showed he was the best player on the floor, both by his complete game and his leadership in galvanizing the East squad in its attempt to answer the West's challenge.

Bryant was voted the game's MVP for the third time in five years and fourth in the last 10. He didn't participate last year due to injury and played less than three minutes in 2008. So, actually, he has won the award in the last three All-Star games in which he's taken at least one shot.

The seminal moment in the game earned that distinction because James answered Kobe's challenge. Sure, Kobe dunked it by LeBron, but without James' pursuit and effort, it's not the play of the game.

Kobe hijacked the game until LeBron matched his intensity.

LeBron James led the East on a comeback that turned this game from the Kobe Show to another classic All-Star game finish. And who were the Alpha-dogs late in the game?

Kevin Durant, Amar'e Stoudemire and James, who recorded only the second triple-double in All-Star game history (29-12-10). All three scored at least 14 points in the final quarter.

It was Durant, not Bryant, who buried consecutive jumpers to push the lead back to seven after the East cut the deficit to two with 2:33 left. In fact, Kobe didn't even score during the final 6:48.

Not that he didn't try. He missed three shots and turned the ball over twice during that time.

After a three by Stoudemire, James again cut the lead to two with 1:12 remaining in what had looked like a laugher after the West entered the fourth quarter with a 17-point cushion.

Just like in the regular season and playoffs, it's not who starts the game, but who finishes it. Kobe should know this as well as anyone.

It was Bryant taking the shots for the West late in All-Star nail-biters in 2001 and 2006 and again in the gold medal game in the 2008 Olympics.

That is the Kobe I enjoy: the one who relishes the big shot on the big stage. Not the one who ball-hogs until he's named MVP by default.

So thanks for answering the bell LeBron. Next time, don't wait so long.


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