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NBA All-Star weekend turned out to be a fitting tribute to Kobe Bryant

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The purpose of the panel wasn’t to honor Kobe Bryant. The gathering of former President Obama had been organized long before a helicopter crash on Jan. 26 broke the hearts of millions. But, like in every party, every news conference, every charity event at All-Star weekend, for a few moments it was.

Obama sat on a stage with NBA stars Chris Paul, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Love and did what so many people have felt compelled to do for the last three weeks.

“The last conversation I had with him was with him and Vanessa in L.A.,” Obama said. “I asked if he missed basketball. He said, ‘I don’t miss it at all. I don’t touch a basketball, because I am now just as competitive and focused on the second phase.’ We were talking about how we could work together with the foundation to mentor young men of color who were at risk.”

As All-Star weekend’s festivities wrapped, the NBA concluded what had become a three-day celebration of Bryant’s life. From the ancillary events where participants spoke of his legacy, to the dunk contest, to the game itself, the weekend offered the league as a whole a way to say goodbye and reset for the final part of the season.

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“The entire weekend was honoring his legacy,” the Lakers’ Anthony Davis said. “Obviously, our jerseys. Both teams played hard. I think the NBA did a wonderful job in continuing his legacy in the All-Star game.”

Anthony Davis made the second of two free-throw attempts to clinch a 157-155 victory for Team LeBron in the NBA All-Star game Sunday. Kawhi Leonard was MVP.

The planned tributes included a twist in the All-Star game’s new format. After three quarters, the teams played one untimed quarter that ended when one team reached a target score. That part already was planned. What honored Bryant was that the target score would now be 24 points greater than the point total for the team that was winning after three quarters.

Each team wore jerseys honoring Bryant and his daughter Gianna as well — LeBron James picked No. 2, Gianna’s number, for his team because of his own daughter, Zhuri. Team Giannis wore Bryant’s No. 24.

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Friday afternoon, the Basketball Hall of Fame announced that Bryant was officially a finalist for this year’s class.

The décor at Michael Jordan’s birthday party Friday night — an annual All-Star tradition — included a flower arrangement in purple and gold shaped like Bryant’s jersey.

Commissioner Adam Silver announced Saturday that the NBA renamed the All-Star MVP award after Bryant, one of only two players to win the award four times. Former teammate Dwight Howard produced a dunk in the first round of the dunk contest that involved wearing a 24 on his chest and dunking with a commemorative ball for Bryant. The original version of the dunk had involved Bryant himself.

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Magic Johnson delivered a eulogy before Sunday’s game, Jennifer Hudson sang for him, Chance the Rapper rapped for him. Hall of Famer Allen Iverson wore Bryant’s jersey to the game.

There were murals and posters and paintings. A pizza place in the Bronzeville neighborhood had Bryant’s jersey painted in the window with a cursive “RIP” above it and a white painting of a dove.

The players agreed the tributes were fitting, but throughout the weekend there were signs of a weariness to continue the conversation.

All-Star weekend features a gathering of the best players and hundreds of people credentialed by the league, many of whom do not regularly attend NBA events. Having discussed their connections to Bryant for weeks, players and former players were sometimes reluctant to continue doing so.

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Ron Harper, who played with Bryant for two championship seasons, was asked during a charity appearance about Bryant. He said he wasn’t in the right frame of mind.

Jennifer Hudson sings a tribute before the NBA All-Star Game to Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, who were killed in a helicopter crash with seven others on Jan. 26.
(Nam Huh / Associated Press)

“I really don’t want to sit up here and talk about it too much,” James said during Saturday’s media day, after offering a few sentences about Bryant for a question that wasn’t the first about Bryant. “It’s a very, very sensitive subject, but he’s with us every day.”

By Sunday James felt less averse. He sat at the podium wearing a blue All-Star jersey and fielding questions after the game.

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“Hi, Kobe,” a reporter sitting in the front row said. “Can you share your favorite off-the-court memory ..."

James jumped in: “I don’t mind being Kobe this weekend.”

“Sorry, I’m so nervous,” the reporter said.

LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard were all wearing the same uniform, Frank Vogel coaching on the sidelines and thought of what might have been.

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“It’s fine, it’s fine,” James said, smiling politely. “My mom might not like it. But I’m OK with it.”

He saw it as another way to honor the man on everyone’s mind all weekend.

Los Angeles Times columnist Arash Markazi contributed to this report.


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