MONTREAL • Kobe Bryant makes his 18th and final NBA All-Star Game appearance today in Toronto, with the Los Angeles Lakers legend surrounded by a new generation of playmakers whom he inspired to greatness.
The 37-year-old American, who last November announced that he would retire after this season, was the top vote-getter with 1.9 million ballots from fans worldwide for the annual mid-season showdown between Eastern and Western conference talent. The East lead the all-time rivalry 37-27.
"It's time for me to go," Bryant said on Friday. "Guys I'm playing with that are tearing up the league were like four for my first All-Star Game."
That is how old Bryant's West team-mate Anthony Davis was when Bryant made his All-Star debut in 1998. Now Davis will be among those trying to make sure Bryant wins a record fifth NBA All-Star Game Most Valuable Player award, breaking the record Bryant now shares with 1950s icon Bob Pettit.
"It's going to be crazy, a lot of (fans wearing Kobe's) No. 24 jerseys," Davis said. "We'll try to get him the MVP."
Former Lakers team-mate Shaquille O'Neal expects Bryant to go for an MVP performance. "Knowing Kobe as well as I do, I'm sure if he gets going, the crowd is going to want it to happen and certain players are going to want it to happen," O'Neal said. "I can guarantee you he's going to go for the MVP. It's his last one. Why not go out with a bang?"
Bryant has scored a record 280 points in All-Star games. Only 19-time All-Star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has more appearances in the elite match-up.
A DIFFERENT GENERATION
Guys I'm playing with that are tearing up the league were like four for my first All-Star Game.
KOBE BRYANT, LA Lakers guard, on how he realised his time is nearly up.
"It's cold, it's really, really cold," said Bryant on Friday as he arrived for Media Day in Toronto on Friday with temperatures touching -25 deg C. "But it really is great to be here. This is a beautiful city, truly deserving to have an All-Star game."
Played outside the United States for the first time in its 65-year history, in a way the NBA is returning to its roots this weekend, since the game was invented by Canadian James Naismith in 1891.
A week after the NFL hogged the spotlight with Super Bowl 50, it is the NBA's turn to take centre stage with a glittering line-up of players and celebrities.
The All-Star Game will provide fans in 215 countries and territories with access in 49 languages on television sets, computers, mobile phones and tablets.
On the court the focus will be on Bryant, who announced in December that this, his 20th NBA season, would be his last.
"I'm really enjoying this whole thing being around the players," he said. "Going to practice, enjoying that moment. Playing in the game, enjoying that moment."
To be part of Bryant's All-Star swan-song comes with a high price tag, with tickets fetching as much as US$6,500 (S$9,083).
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
NBA ALL-STAR GAME
StarHub Ch216, 8am