Kawhi dedicates All-Star MVP to Kobe: 'This one's for him'
MANILA, Philippines – Just as defense became relevant again in the NBA All-Star Game, it was only fitting that one of the league's best stoppers shone brighter than the rest.
Los Angeles Clippers superstar Kawhi Leonard let his game do the talking as usual and took home the first-ever Kobe Bryant All-Star Game MVP trophy after Team LeBron edged Team Giannis, 157-155, on Monday, February 17, Manila time.
In a game revamped to honor the late basketball legend, the two-time NBA champion dropped 30 points, 25 coming in the first half alone, with 7 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals on an efficient 11-of-18 clip.
Even the usually reserved Leonard let his emotions show in front of thousands of fans in Chicago as he gave his thoughts on being the first recipient of the Kobe Bryant trophy.
"It means a lot to me. Words can't even explain," he said in the post-game interview. "I want to thank Kobe for everything he's done for me. All the long talks and workouts – this one is for him."
While the 69th All-Star Game still rolled out the highlight reel for the league's top stars in the first 3 quarters, "Mamba Mentality" soon took over in the streetball-style final frame, where the first team to notch the target score would win.
In a sudden shift of mood on the court rarely seen in the All-Star Game, both teams locked horns on the defensive side – right up Leonard's alley – and even resulted in actual complaints over officiating in the endgame.
In the end, it was Chicago-born Anthony Davis who closed out the heated contest in his hometown with a free throw to win $300,000 for Team LeBron's chosen charity.
All in all, the new All-Star Game created in tribute for Bryant brought out everything great there was in the Black Mamba. And as a bonus for Leonard, he gets to keep a piece of basketball history to remember one of the greatest to ever play the game the right way.
"It's very special. I had a relationship with him. Words can't explain how happy I am for it. I'm able to put that trophy in my trophy room and see Kobe's name on there," he said.
"It just means a lot to me. He's a big inspiration in my life. He did a lot for me," he added. – Rappler.com