(Yahoo!) A 14-year-old Kevin Durant sat high in the rafters to watch Michael Jordan’s last home game for the Washington Wizards in 2003. The now All-Star fondly recalled the emotions he witnessed while fans said goodbye to an NBA legend. Now 13 years later, he envisions a similar scene unfolding during Kobe Bryant’s final All-Star Game on Sunday in Toronto.
“I scored some tickets in the nose bleeds from my mom’s job,” Durant told Yahoo Sports about Jordan’s finale in Washington. “Me and my boy took the train up and I just remember the energy in the building. I saw some tears and a lot of different emotions for a guy that meant that much to people. Not just the basketball world, but people in general with his brand and who he was. Kobe adds that same effect.”
Bryant announced in December that this, his 20th NBA season, would be his last. The Los Angeles Lakers’ all-time leading scorer has been on an NBA farewell tour ever since as he prepares for his 18th All-Star Game.
East All-Star Dwyane Wade certainly has enjoyed watching the appreciation for Bryant.
“For guys who played against him in his prime and guys who got a chance to play with him period, we just all have ultimate respect for the competitor, first of all, that Kobe Bryant was with the talent to go with it,” Wade told Yahoo Sports. “The championships. Everything that he did brings nothing but respect from everyone in the league.
“Guys compete against him. Crowds boo him. But now he is seeing what he meant to this game now that everyone is showing him respect. The crowds are showing him respect. He deserves it.”
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the league would honor the five-time NBA champion, who was the leading All-Star vote getter with nearly 1.9 million votes, during the All-Star Game festivities.
"There will be no doubt that we will do something special for him," Silver said. "We've talked many times this season and he's enjoying it. He is trying to take it all in. He realizes that it may not be for a few years to put his career in perspective. It's really hard when you're still playing. He realizes how special it is as he travels. I'm kind of glad that he announced that it will be his last season at the beginning of the year. It gives everyone a chance to celebrate him."
West All-Star guard Stephen Curry, a starter alongside Bryant, is excited about being “a part of history.”
“People remember Michael’s last All-Star Game [in 2003], Shaq’s [O’Neal] last All-Star game [in 2009], all the greats,” Curry told Yahoo Sports. “This will be Kobe’s great moment. The fans obviously voted him in to see him on the court. I might get a couple of assists off of him. I will see him get his moment that he definitely deserves.
“He pushed everyone to try to elevate their game going after what he was trying to accomplish. He’s left a mark. To be in the same [starting lineup] as he rides off into the All-Star sunset will be a fun moment that I will remember for a long time.”
“I grew up in L.A. watching the Lakers on KCAL-9,” Westbrook told Yahoo Sports. “That was definitely the channel I had watching the Lakers. I’m a big fan of Kobe. He was somebody I could look up to and see all the great things he’s done.
“That was definitely a big moment for myself as a player growing up in Los Angeles and being able to play against a guy I saw growing up on T.V. It was definitely a big battle. I just tried to take on the challenge and be fearless.”
West All-Star Klay Thompson got to know Bryant during his youth because his father, Mychal, is a former Laker who is also the franchise’s longtime radio color analyst.
“It’s pretty surreal. It’s his last [All-Star] Game,” Klay Thompson told Yahoo Sports. “I know the NBA has had Kobe Bryant in it the last 20 years. It will be weird to see him gone and not in a Laker uniform next season. …
“I saw how hard he played every night. It takes a special person to sustain that effort during the season. He really gave his all. That’s what sticks with me the most.”
Bryant told Yahoo Sports in January that Jordan told him before the 2003 All-Star Game that he didn’t want anyone to take it easy on him. Bryant, now 37 and certainly a step slower, said he wants to be treated similarly in his All-Star finale.
East All-Star Paul George is planning to give Bryant his wish.
“If I get my opportunity I will definitely take it to match up with Kobe in his last All-Star Game,” George told Yahoo Sports. “But at the end of the day, it’s about having fun and putting on a show for the fans. I know he is going to have some fun, especially knowing it’s his last go. So I look forward to it.
“I’m not going to take it easy. If that’s what the man says, that’s what you got to give him.”
Bryant is the All-Star Game’s all-time leading scorer with 280 points. West All-Star forward Anthony Davis wouldn’t mind seeing him add on to that total.
“I am going to try to get him the ball every time,” Davis told Yahoo Sports. “Last All-Star Game, I want him to score 50. He might not have the legs. He might not play as much. But when he is in the game, I’m going to look for him. He’s a phenomenal player.”
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