The impact that Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant had on this era of NBA performers was apparent even before he played his last game in the league. Players such as Kyrie Irving, LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo have strived to keep the legacy of Bryant alive since his untimely passing in 2020.
The league has also done plenty to honor Bryant as well with one of the more notable being changes to the NBA All-Star Game. Bryant always wanted the game to be more competitive so the NBA implemented some rules in order to make that happen. Additionally, the league named the All-Star MVP award after Bryant, one of only two players to win it four times.
With 35 points on a record 16-16 shooting, reigning regular-season MVP, Antetokounmpo, won the 2021 award, the second since it was renamed after the Lakers legend. Following the contest, the Milwaukee Bucks star made it clear how much it meant to him to bring home an award named after Bryant.
“Obviously, I’m extremely happy at just having the award with the name of Kobe Bryant in my house,” Antetokounmpo said after the game. “It’s a great feeling. I wanted to win the one last year really bad and I had a chance to win because I felt like I wanted to have the trophy in my house, but this year I wasn’t even thinking about winning it, I was just thinking about having fun, and I had the opportunity to play well.”
Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard took home the first Kobe Bryant award last year, but Antetokounmpo was the clear choice after his domination this time. Teaming with James for the first time since the league ditched the East vs. West format, Antetokounmpo was outstanding on this night and more than earned the right to have the Kobe Bryant trophy on his mantle.
“My team played great and I was able to just win it and to have the trophy with the name of Kobe Bryant, it’s amazing, and I know he would be happy. Yeah, I know he’d be happy.”
Antetokounmpo was one of many who would work with Kobe Bryant in the offseason and his genuine excitement at doing so was memorable to say the least. He was one of the players met with a Mamba Challenge in 2017 and he accomplished that goal of winning MVP having done so in consecutive seasons. Paying homage to Kobe in this way undoubtedly means a lot to one of Bryant’s biggest fans.
James ‘in awe’ of Antetokounmpo, Curry
With Antetokounmpo, James, and Stephen Curry, Team LeBron had eight regular-season MVP Awards between them. While James took it lightly, playing just 13 minutes, Curry added 28 points with eight three-pointers to Antetokunmpo’s MVP performance. When it was all said and done, James was simply in awe of his teammates.
“Absolutely. That’s why I drafted them, man,” James said. “It’s guys that I obviously compete against on a nightly basis. But guys that I’m just in awe of. Giannis and Steph, it’s my first time teaming up with Steph, and it was an honor to be on the floor with him. A guy that I’ve seen come and be the player that he is today. It was just great to be out there with Steph and Giannis and the rest of the guys, too.”
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