Kobe Bryant’s All-Star Going-Away Party Comes at Fitting Time in NBA’s Evolution

The 2016 NBA All-Star Game capped a weekend devoted to celebrating Kobe Bryant, just as it signaled that the league he iconically defined for two decades no longer needs him.

That's different than saying it doesn't want him anymore.

During the West's 196-173 win, Bryant was mostly an afterthought—given a handful of early chances to score before ceding the spotlight to the assembled present-day superstars. And that felt appropriate. As much as the lead-up festivities in Toronto focused on Bryant's career impact, the actual game was all about the generation of stars he influenced.

(And not playing defense. It was also about not playing defense.)

That group of players, the ones Bryant helped create, showed appreciation for the 18-time All-Star in one of two (yes, two) pregame tribute videos:

All the deference (both before and during the game) was ironic when you consider the uncompromising, decidedly non-deferential spirit that defined Bryant's career, per Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding:

Russell Westbrook's competitive wiring is similar to Bryant's, and he did his best to honor his predecessor's true spirit, streaking through traffic to cram home the game's first bucket—with no inclination to let the old man take the game's first shot.

Westbrook won his second straight All-Star MVP award, putting up 31 points, eight rebounds, five assists and five steals while joining Bryant as the only players to walk disinterestedly past Drake during the introductions.

And to his credit, Paul George, who spoke first in the players' recorded fete of Bryant, didn't turn down many opportunities to fire away from deep. He finished with a record-setting nine made threes and 41 points on 16-of-26 shooting to lead the East. That scoring total tied Westbrook's output last season as the second highest in All-Star Game history, just ...

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