By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 21, 2011; 1:19 AM
LOS ANGELES - Kobe Bryant dribbled up the court and looked over to his right, where Kevin Durant was sprinting on the opposite end. LeBron James, running in between them, was waiting for Bryant to make a decision. Bryant lowered his head, picked some steam and soared toward the rim and James chased him down in an attempt to block his shot. But as James took a swipe, Bryant had already swooped in for a two-handed dunk.
"I wanted to see if I could avoid the LeBron chase down," Bryant said, chuckling. "I told him afterwards, if I had tried to go over the rim, like get up, he probably would have blocked it with his armpit. I kind of snuck it by him."
Bryant may be getting up in age and his right knee may be getting a little creakier, but with a younger generation of players coming after him, the 15-year veteran remains unwilling to surrender his spot atop the league hierarchy. And on Sunday, he used the NBA's annual homage to opulence as an opportunity to prove, once again, that he was the best player on the floor. With the league on his home court at Staples Center, in what will be his last chance to play an All-Star Game in Los Angeles, Bryant took over the stage, scoring a game-high 37 points with 14 rebounds and winning most valuable player honors after leading the Western Conference to a 148-143 victory over the Eastern Conference. Making his 13th NBA all-star appearance, Bryant joined Bob Pettit as the only other player to win four All-Star Game MVP trophies.
"Being home, I wanted to come out and play hard, put on a good show," said Bryant, who shared the honors with Shaquille O'Neal two years ago in Phoenix. "This being my last all-star game in front of these fans, it feels good."
With concerns over a possible lockout after this season and rumors swirling about Carmelo Anthony possibly being traded to either New York or New Jersey drawing most of the publicity this weekend, Bryant - with a lot of assistance from Durant, a District native - helped put the spotlight back on the centerpiece of the 60th annual extravaganza, the game.
Bryant tied Kevin Garnett for the fourth-highest scoring game in all-star history, and moved into fourth place on the career all-star scoring list with 244 points. Bryant said he was aware he was closing in on Wilt Chamberlain's single-game record of 42 points, but didn't have the legs to finish the fourth period after throwing down four dunks. "Man I had nothing left," Bryant said. "I exceeded my dunk quota for the game."
With Bryant tiring, he decided to look more down the stretch for Durant, who scored 14 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter. Durant, making his first all-star start, cut inside for a dunk that gave the West a 134-118 lead, but James and Amare Stoudemire and combined to score 11 points during a 17-3 run that brought the East's deficit to two points with 2 minutes, 34 seconds left. Durant then made a pull-up jumper near the foul line and caught a pass from Bryant for a wide-open three-pointer.
"It was like playing in the playground," Durant said. "It was like a pick-up game almost. But to be on this team and see that the things that [Bryant] was doing out here, is just amazing. As a young player like me, I grew up watching him, and to play alongside him was an honor. This was a dream come true for me."
The East got to 142-140 on another James layup, but Pau Gasol (17 points, seven rebounds) tipped in a Bryant missed jumper and Paul added two free throws. James and Stoudemire both had 29 points to lead the East, which lost Dwyane Wade to a sprained right ankle in the third quarter when he stepped on the foot of Utah point guard Deron Williams while make a jump pass. James had the second triple-double in all-star history with 12 rebounds and 10 assists.
Bryant didn't hide his objective, as he came out aggressive from the start. He backed down Wade, turned around and hit a high arching jumper over him. He later drove baseline, went under the basket and dunked on the other side with two hands. He offered another reminder that he can still get up later in the first half, when he blew past Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose, got inside and made a two-handed reverse dunk.
"You could tell he wanted to get the MVP," Stoudemire said. "He was not passing the ball, at all."
The two-time defending champion Lakers may have had a difficult week that included an embarrassing loss to the league's worst team in Cleveland, but the all-star weekend provided a chance for Bryant to get away from the drama that always seems to surround his team. "What last game?" Bryant asked. "That game's been flushed."
The loudest ovations were reserved for Bryant, who was applauded as he exited in the final seconds, and Los Angeles Clippers rookie forward Blake Griffin. Griffin had just eight points, but fans started chanting in the fourth quarter, "We want Blake! We want Blake!"
"Me being around the young players gave me so much energy to see them bouncing around and all that sort of stuff, just re-energized more for the night," Bryant said, adding that he wasn't jealous of the young players coming up. "I had my time. It's not about that at this point in my career. I've been there. It's very important the game to continue to have young stars emerge. You know, it's important for me to step aside."
But not yet.