Kobe tributes abound at NBA All-Star Game in Chicago
LOS ANGELES — Tributes to the late Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers legend who died last month in a helicopter crash, will play a major role in Sunday's 69th NBA All-Star Game.
This year's annual showcase of league talent will be played in Chicago and feature numerous nods to Bryant, a five-time NBA champion who also matched a league record with four NBA All-Star Game Most Valuable Player awards.
Bryant, an 18-time NBA All-Star, died at age 41 on Jan. 26 in a crash near Los Angeles that also took the life of his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others.
All-Star teams guided by LeBron James of the Lakers and Greek star Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks will compete to win each of the first three quarters, which will all start 0-0 and last 12 minutes.
At the start of the fourth quarter, the clock will be turned off and a final target score will be established by taking the leading club's cumulative score through the first three quarters and adding 24 points — the number representing the jersey number worn by Bryant for the final 10 seasons of his NBA career.
The first team to reach the cumulative target score will win the NBA All-Star Game.
All-Star Game jerseys will also honor Bryant and his daughter.
Team Giannis players will wear jersey No. 24 in tribute to Kobe while Team LeBron players will wear jersey No .2, the number his daughter wore when playing youth basketball.
Both teams will wear jersey patches displaying nine stars, representing the nine people who were killed in the crash.
Academy Award-winning actress and Grammy Award-winning singer Jennifer Hudson, a Chicago native, will perform a special tribute to Bryant, his daughter and the others who were killed in the crash. Her performance will begin the night ahead of the player introductions.
James and Antetokounmpo each chose their squads from available starters and reserves voted and selected to the All-Star contest.
Team LeBron starters will include James, his Lakers teammate Anthony Davis, NBA scoring leader James Harden of Houston, Kawhi Leonard of the Los Angeles Clippers and Slovenian guard Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks.
Team Giannis starters include the Greek big man, Cameroon stars Joel Embiid of Philadelphia and Pascal Siakam of Toronto and guards Kemba Walker of Boston and Trae Young of Atlanta.
A record eight All-Star Game players from outside the United States also include Frenchman Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz on Team Giannis and Team LeBron reserves Ben Simmons of Australia and the Philadelphia 76ers, Lithuanian Domantas Sabonis of Indiana and Serbian Nikola Jokic of Denver.
Meanwhile, Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker will take the place of injured Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard in the NBA All-Star Game and the three-point contest, league commissioner Adam Silver said Thursday.
The nod from Silver gives Booker his first NBA All-Star selection in his fifth season, although he competed in and won the three-point contest that is part of the exhibition weekend's festivities in 2018.
Lillard, whose recent red-hot scoring has him fourth in the league at an average of 29.5 points per game, suffered a right groin strain in the Trail Blazers' loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday.
"When it happened, I just felt it," said Lillard, who finished the game with 20 points, 10 assists and five rebounds in 37 minutes.
"I knew I pulled it, it made no sense to be out there for the last few minutes of the game and risk trying to play through it and making it worse," said Lillard, who was hurt with 3:22 to play in the fourth quarter.
Lillard drove through the lane and rose for a layup that was blocked by Memphis big man Jonas Valanciunas, and when Lillard came down he immediately grabbed his right groin.
Lillard's injury is a heavy blow to the Blazers. His recent scoring surge has seen him climb to fourth in the league in scoring with 29.5 points per game. Portland are ninth in the Western Conference, trying to battle into one of the eight playoff spots.
Lillard said he would still travel to Chicago for All-Star weekend, which is capped by the showcase game on Sunday.
"I'll still be there and be a part of it but I'm not going to be able to play," he said.
Booker will take his place on Team LeBron, the team led by Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James. — AFP