“Kobe Bryant is synonymous with NBA All-Star and embodies the spirit of this global celebration of our game,” Silver said in a news release. “He always relished the opportunity to compete with the best of the best and perform at the highest level for millions of fans around the world.”
Bryant won five NBA titles and two Olympic gold medals during his 20-year professional career, but some of his most memorable moments came at All-Star Weekend. He earned 18 all-star selections — second to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 19 — and was named MVP four times, tying Hall of Famer Bob Pettit for the record. When Bryant made his all-star debut at 19 in 1998, he became the youngest player to appear in the game.
There also were lighter all-star moments, including his victory in the 1997 slam dunk contest and late-game duels with Michael Jordan and LeBron James in the years that followed. In a sign of how seriously he took the event, Bryant broke his nose during the 2012 All-Star Game, an injury that required he don a protective mask in the weeks that followed. At his final All-Star Game in 2016, members of the international media presented Bryant with gifts to show their appreciation for his career.
Silver hailed Bryant’s “transformational” impact on the league and called his sudden death at 41 “unimaginable.” The commissioner said the idea to rename the award came about because the league wanted “something special we could do at All-Star that had more permanence than changing the numbers on the jerseys.”
The Kobe Bryant MVP Award, which will be presented for the first time after Sunday’s All-Star Game, is a simple glass trophy in the shape of a basketball with the NBA’s logo front and center. Bryant’s name and the logo of Kia, the award’s sponsor, are engraved on the trophy’s base. A combined vote of the media (75 percent) and the fans (25 percent) will determine the winner.
There have been numerous tributes to Bryant throughout this weekend, including a speech from Pau Gasol, his former Lakers teammate, on Friday night and jersey patches that bore 24 and 2, the jersey numbers worn by Bryant and his daughter, and nine stars to represent the helicopter crash victims. The players in Sunday’s game will wear jerseys that bear the numbers.
Bryant is not the first NBA figure to have an award named after him. The NBA Finals trophy is named after former commissioner Larry O’Brien, the Finals MVP trophy is named after Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell, and the league’s citizenship award is named after former commissioner J. Walter Kennedy.
Silver opened his news conference by memorializing his predecessor, David Stern, who died Jan. 1. The NBA will honor Stern with a black stripe on the all-star jerseys, but Silver said the league wasn’t ready to announce additional tributes.
“[Stern] became not only my mentor but an incredibly close friend,” Silver said. "He was there when I got married. He was one of the first people to hug my daughter when she was born. I remain very close to his wife, Dianne, and his two children, Andrew and Eric. He was a force of nature for those who got to work for him. He’s somebody that will remain in our hearts and minds for a long time, and we will continue to talk at the league about the proper way to honor him over time.”
Hong Kong fallout
Speaking for the first time at a major NBA event since the league became embroiled in controversy with China in the fall, Silver said relations between the league and its largest international market have improved. Although NBA games are still not available on CCTV, the state-run television network, after a pro-Hong Kong tweet by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey, service has been restored by other providers in China.
Even so, Silver acknowledged that lost revenue from Chinese sponsors and merchandise sales will reach nine figures.
“The magnitude of the loss will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars,” Silver said. “Probably less than $400 million. It’s substantial. I don’t want to run from that."
A key remaining sticking point is that the NBA and the Rockets refused to publicly discipline Morey, who remains employed by the team, out of respect for his right to free speech.
“I don’t have any sense that there’s permanent damage to our business there, and we accept the consequences of our systems and our values," Silver said. "It’s not a position that any business wants to be in, but those are the results.”