LOS ANGELES • Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant gained the 18th All-Star nod of his career on Thursday, as the starters for the National Basketball Association's mid-season showcase were announced.
Bryant, the five-time NBA champion who has announced he will retire this year after the conclusion of his 20th season, had paced fan voting for All-Star starters for weeks, despite his own on-court struggles and those of the Lakers.
He topped all vote-getters with 1,891,614 votes and will start alongside Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant and San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard in the Western Conference front court.
Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry - the reigning NBA Most Valuable Player - and Oklahoma's Russell Westbrook round out the West starting line-up.
Leonard is a first-time All-Star, overtaking Golden State's Draymond Green in the closing weeks of fan voting for the exhibition that will be held on Feb 14 in Toronto.
Bryant's 18th selection for the All-Star game is the second-most ever behind the 19 of fellow Lakers icon Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
However, injuries have sidelined the 37-year-old from some All-Star Games for which he was selected. He missed the last two because of injury.
But as interim returns were released, Bryant expressed surprise that he was leading in the balloting, as he is shooting just 34.5 per cent from the field this season and the Lakers (9-35) are last in the Western Conference.
In the East, the Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James, Indiana Pacers' Paul George and Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks make up the front court, with the back court starting spots going to Miami Heat veteran Dwyane Wade and Toronto Raptors' Kyle Lowry.
Anthony, Durant and George are off to strong starts after missing significant time last season because of injuries. The All-Star reserves will be named next Thursday.