This Time Around, Crowd Is With Him
Monday, February 19, 2007
LAS VEGAS, Feb. 18 -- With a new number on his jersey and a resurgent Los Angeles Lakers team on his back, Kobe Bryant has been reminding basketball fans all season that he is still one of the biggest stars in the NBA.
After leading the Western Conference all-stars to a 153-132 victory over the East on Sunday night, Bryant stood alone. He scored a game-high 31 points and had several spectacular dunks en route to collecting his second All-Star Game MVP award.
Bryant also was named MVP following the 2002 game in Philadelphia but the moment wasn't entirely pleasant because he was booed despite the fact that he attended high school in the Philadelphia suburb of Lower Merion, Pa. Those boos followed the 2001 NBA Finals, when the Lakers beat the Philadelphia 76ers in five games.
On Sunday night, Bryant received some of the loudest cheers throughout an otherwise ragged game, and he was serenaded with chants of "M-V-P!" late in the fourth quarter.
"To have this type of reaction here in this All-Star Game is very humbling," said Bryant, who switched jersey numbers from 8 to 24 before the season started. "I just feel very blessed and very fortunate to be able to come out tonight and put on a really good show."
Bryant had never visited Las Vegas before All-Star Weekend.
"It's great," Bryant said. "Hopefully, we can come back."
Moments after a group of Elvis Presley impersonators finished jumping off trampolines and dunking during a second-half timeout, Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas sneaked off the East bench, grabbed a ball, bounced off one of the trampolines and dunked.
According to Arenas, the stunt was the result of a dare by Shaquille O'Neal, who has to donate between $50,000 and $100,000 to a charity of Arenas's choice.
"I was nervous," Arenas said. "I was like, 'If I miss this and get hurt, I'm in trouble.' "
Having coached three big scorers in Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison for two seasons, Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan understands how difficult it can be keeping everyone happy. However, splitting minutes and shots between those three is nothing compared with what Jordan faced Sunday night when he coached an East squad loaded with scorers.
"My main concern was doling out minutes and making sure everyone got in and out of there," said Jordan, who gave all 12 players at least 15 minutes of action. "I know I might not have given some guys the right amount of minutes. When I looked down at the West and they were subbing freely in the first quarter, I was like, 'Wow.' All of this was new to me."
Doing the Jitterbug
After the game Butler, a first-time all-star, admitted that he had the jitters. "I was definitely nervous, I'm not going to lie. All of that tough juice stuff went right out the window," he said.