Lakers center Andrew Bynum was handling his newly minted All-Star status with a touch of humility, pride and, yes, some kid-like joy.
His ascent was more like a one-sided political election — so the official announcement on TNT later Thursday afternoon was a mere formality. Bynum had pulled in more than a million votes, and his closest challenger, the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan, was well back at 322,056.
“I always wanted to be an All-Star,” said the 24-year-old Bynum, who is averaging 16.5 points and 12.1 rebounds, both career highs. “I said that, like, six years ago. It took a long time.
"… Attrition [helped] a little bit. There’s nobody there. No Yao [Ming].”
Said teammate Pau Gasol: “He’s got the mind-set now. He’s a little more mature as a player and he understands the game better. He knows where he can be more effective and he’s healthier. So that helps.”
A healthy and sleeker-looking Bynum has taken advantage of the changed circumstances in the Lakers’ world.
“I’m just in a different system,” he said. “I’m getting the ball a lot more, obviously without [Lamar] Odom here, I get more minutes. So the numbers go up.”
Bynum was talking after practice, a rare scrimmage in a hectic schedule, not long before the Lakers departed for their six-game trip — their longest of the season — which starts Friday night in Denver. The Lakers have won only twice in nine road games this season and the trip includes back-to-backs against the Nuggets-Jazz and Celtics-Knicks.
The make-or-break aspects of the trip were taking a secondary status, at least Thursday, to the announcement of the All-Star starters.
So could the two Lakers starters — Bynum and Kobe Bryant — forge a temporary peace with the two Clippers starters — Chris Paul and Blake Griffin — and even pass to one another?
“I think so. I think they want to win,” Lakers Coach Mike Brown said. “I think the West wants to beat the East.”
Hugging, though, might be asking too much. Maybe just letting Bynum visit Lob City on a day pass might suffice.
“I don’t know if they’ll hug it out,” Brown said. “All those guys are competitive. I think this is going to be a very good team. I know it will be fun to watch.”
For Bynum, the All-Star game in Orlando on Feb. 26 still seems far removed. “It’s probably going to hit me when I’m there,” he said.
Last season, he wasn’t on hand to watch any of the All-Star festivities in Los Angeles. The weekend Griffin was dunking over a Kia, Bynum was hanging out with friends at Lemoore Naval Air Station, near Fresno, and glancing inside the cockpit of a fighter aircraft.
“You know, I looked in the cockpit. I didn’t actually get in because the eject thing was live,” Bynum said. “I accidentally hit that and I’m dead.”
Eventually, Bynum would love to fold his 7-foot frame into a fighter plane, a thought sure to make Lakers executives sweat a bit.
“I mean, come on, it’s the Navy,” Bynum said, smiling, as he walked away from reporters. “If we can’t trust the Navy, who can we trust?”