LOS ANGELES — No one else will decide when Kobe Bryant passes the torch.
Bryant made that clear Sunday night at Staples Center by snagging his record-tying fourth All-Star Game MVP trophy in the Western Conference’s 148-143 win in the 60th ASG.
Someone will have to snatch the torch from Bryant, the same way he did in 2003, when he was the only player willing to go after an aged Michael Jordan in Atlanta. Jordan was eight days away from his 40th birthday and several Eastern Conference stars offered to give up their starting spots to the man they had all idolized growing up.
But Bryant, who finished that game with 22 points as Kevin Garnett snagged MVP honors with a 37-point effort, was the one guy that showed Jordan the proper respect by trying to attack him on both ends of the floor. Whatever reverence Bryant might have had for Jordan, he did a great job of masking it by going after Jordan the way a young Jordan did his elders when he was a youngster.
Sooner or later the future pushes the past aside. It’s a cycle that can never be broken.
That said, Bryant was prepared for the assault from his younger peers last night, feeding off of their energy at every turn. LeBron James (who notched the second triple-double in ASG history, joining Jordan) gave chase late, but Bryant had the MVP wrapped up despite running out gas at the finish. Still, Bryant made sure everyone in attendance and watching at home understood that he still has the only key to the Staples Center front door (your time will come Blake Griffin).
“Tonight was just about me being around young players,” he said. “[Russell] Westbrook … you want to know the influence of Blake? Look at all the dunks I had tonight. Just being around so many young players gave me so much energy to see them bouncing around and all that stuff. But the fourth quarter, man, I had nothing left. I exceeded my dunk quota for the game.”
Bryant might not see another All-Star Game MVP trophy. He probably won’t have a chance to perform for the hometown crowd in an another All-Star Game either. But for one night, with the bright lights of Hollywood serving as the backdrop, the old man had his day. And he’ll have plenty more in games that actually count.
But even Bryant understands that there comes a time for every man to step aside for the youngsters.
“It’s not about that for me at this point in my career,” Bryant said. “I’ve been there … it’s very important for the game to continue to have young stars emerge. It’s great for the league to get behind Blake and what he’s doing … it’s important for me to step aside.”
Sure, whenever you decide to step aside!