Thirteen years later, he’s still going strong, starting in the Western Conference back court alongside Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets. It will be the 12th game in which Bryant has played: he was not selected as a 17-year-old rookie; there was no game in 1999; and a left ankle sprain kept him from playing in last season’s contest in Dallas.
To put Bryant’s All-Star run into perspective, several of his Western teammates were wide-eyed little kids when he made his debut.
Blake Griffin was eight years old.
Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love were nine.
“I remember Kobe’s first (All-Star game), when he was squared up against (Michael) Jordan and had the 360 (dunk) and even won the dunk competition the (year before),” said Love after Saturday morning’s practice session. “I was talking to (Kobe and Tim Duncan) in the locker room before hand that this is my first one and they’ve been here 13, 14 times. It’s unbelievable.”
“I remember (Kevin Garnett) throwing him a lob in one of those games,” recalled Durant. “He’s had a long, long, great career. He’s far from over I think, and as a player you can only dream of having a career like that.
“It’s a dream come true playing with one of the best players to ever play the game, have him on the All-Star team, and just going about everything with him. I’m excited.”
Bryant, never one to get crazy with nostalgia, spoke about the extremely high level of talent on his current All-Star team, though not without mentioning the greatness of his 1998 squad. Bryant actually led the West in scoring with 19 points in a 135-114 loss to Jordan’s East team, but fondly recalls looking around the locker room at players like David Robinson, Karl Malone and John Stockton.
The rest of the team: Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal, Jason Kidd, Gary Payton, Vin Baker, Eddie Jones, Mitch Richmond and Nick Van Exel.
How would that squad do against Kobe and teammates like Pau Gasol, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Paul and Dirk Nowitzki? How would 1998, 19-year-old Kobe fare against 2011, 32-year-old Kobe?
Too bad we can only speculate. But that Kobe could very easily end up leading both teams in scoring speaks to quite a run of All-Star seasons that Durant suggested could go on for several more years.