Kobe Bryant was selected by fans as a starter for his 18th and final All-Star game, the NBA announced Thursday
Bryant, 37, had 1.9 million votes, easily the most of any player and almost twice as many as LeBron James and Kevin Durant combined.
In his 20-year career, Bryant failed to make only one All-Star game — as a Lakers rookie in 1996. There was no game in 1999 because of a labor lockout.
This was the fourth time he led all players in voting, along with 2003, 2011 and 2013.
It is the first time Bryant made the game as a “frontcourt” player. He shifted to small forward this season.
Somewhat surprisingly, TNT analyst Charles Barkley agreed with Bryant’s getting the starting nod despite shooting only 34.5% on a team with a 9-35 record.
“Kobe should start because he’s Kobe,” said Barkley, an occasional critic of Bryant.
Bryant is a four-time MVP of the All-Star game, which will take place Feb. 14 in Toronto.
Barkley, though, didn’t like the fans’ vote for the West starters.
“There should be only three guys that are no-brainers — that’s Steph Curry, Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green,” Barkley said. “Draymond Green should be starting in the All-Star game, plain and simple.”
Leonard grabbed the West’s third frontcourt spot, behind Bryant and Durant. Green, the Warriors’ versatile big man, actually finished fifth in the voting — Dallas center Zaza Pachulia was somehow fourth.
Leonard will be a first-time starter in the game. His all-around skills have made him one of the league’s top two-way players and a main reason for San Antonio hanging closely behind Golden State in the West standings.
The reserve All-Stars will be revealed next week after a vote by the 30 NBA coaches. Clippers guard Chris Paul will almost surely be selected and possibly either Clippers forward Blake Griffin or center DeAndre Jordan.
Paul finished third in the voting for West guards and Griffin, who has been sidelined almost a month with a quadriceps injury, was sixth among frontcourt players. Jordan was 11th in the frontcourt voting.
James will be joined in the East starting lineup by Indiana forward Paul George, Miami guard Dwyane Wade, New York forward Carmelo Anthony and Toronto guard Kyle Lowry.
The voting results marked a nice comeback for George, who sustained a broken leg in August 2014 while playing for Team USA. It was a grisly injury that occurred when he crashed into the bottom of the basket support.
“There’s no words,” George told TNT. “For everyone who watched the game and saw the injury, and kind of followed me through the whole process of rehabbing, and to get to this point of being named an All-Star, I feel like everyone was there with me.”
Follow Mike Bresnahan on Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan