The Elam ending revived the All-Star game. We saw blocks, dunks, charges being taken - actual defense! The game was all about Kobe, with several moving tributes from Magic Johnson, Jennifer Hudson, and Common. The best tribute was the Mamba Mentality being displayed on the court. Chris Paul explained it best.
"For a lot of us, it's still surreal. I think the best way we could honor Kobe, Gigi, and everyone involved was to play like we played."
Chris Paul, via ESPN
In the end it was Kawhi Leonard who went home as the first winner of the "Kobe Bryant MVP" award. Kawhi scored 30 points (11-18 from the field), had 7 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals. It was no surprise to learn that Kobe and Kawhi also had a relationship we didn't know much about.
After Kobe's final game in San Antonio, during his retirement tour, Gregg Popovich took a moment to ask Kobe for a favor. Now that Kobe was soon to be out of the league, Pop asked Kobe to mentor young Leonard, as he knew how much Kawhi looked up to Kobe. That relationship developed, and Kawhi mentioned it while accepting his MVP award.
"I want to thank Kobe for everything he's done for me. All the long talks and workouts, thank you. This one's for him."
Kawhi said he didn't start the game with winning the MVP on his mind. He scored his first two shots, felt hot and then decided to go for the award. Kawhi said having a trophy with Kobe's name on it means a lot to him and said Kobe was a big inspiration to him. After the game, Kawhi recalled the most Kobe conversation you can imagine.
"Kobe asked whats the most shots you had in a game, I'm like 19. He said 'I have shot it 47 times'"
Many players played their hearts out last night and were worthy of the award. We hope that the new format and the desire to win the Kobe Bryant MVP will carry on in years to come. That's the best way players can honor Kobe - bring that Mamba Mentality to each play.