NBA All-Star Game MVP award named in honor of Kobe Bryant

ByTim Bontemps ESPN logo
Sunday, February 16, 2020

CHICAGO -- Commissioner Adam Silver announced during his annual All-Star Saturday Night news conference that the NBA All-Star Game MVP award has been permanently named after the late Kobe Bryant.

"We were thinking about what the best way is, one of the ways to honor Kobe," Silver said at the United Center before the league's Saturday night festivities got underway. "It happened to be that his loss came shortly before we were moving into All-Star festivities. I think one of the things that stands out with Kobe, of course in addition to his five championships, is that he has [made 18 All-Star teams] and tied for the record of four MVPs.

"To all of us, it seemed like the appropriate way to bring honor to him."

The award will be named after Bryant from now on, with it being handed out first at Sunday's All-Star Game. Until this point, it had not been named after anyone. Bryant made his All-Star Game debut in 1998 at the age of 19, making him the youngest player to play in the league's midseason showcase.

The Los Angeles Lakers legend holds the NBA record for consecutive All-Star selections with 18 straight, from 1998 through 2016 (there was no All-Star Game in 1999 because of the NBA lockout).

The league is still reeling from the death of Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven friends in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26. In honor of both of them, the league changed the All-Star jerseys this year so that Team LeBron is wearing No. 24 in honor of Bryant and Team Giannis is wearing No. 2 to honor Gianna.

Saturday marked the first time Silver has discussed the events of that day, and why he decided not to cancel any of that day's games.

"The immediate issue was whether games were going to be played that night on Sunday night. Through our operation center in Secaucus, New Jersey, we have a live look into every one of our arenas, and we realized that people were already assembling for some of the games that were scheduled. People were already in arenas, and there still had not been confirmation ... that Kobe and Gigi had lost their lives.

"So it didn't feel appropriate to us that we should be canceling our events and acknowledging something that was not official yet. We were in touch with the family indirectly, and I think also, certainly in that moment, they were not prepared to acknowledge something that had not clearly happened."

Silver then added that he spoke on the phone with Oklahoma City Thunder star, and National Basketball Players Association president, Chris Paul, and that Paul concurred with that opinion.

From there, the league's focus shifted to the next game on the Lakers' schedule -- the one they had scheduled at home against the LA Clippers two days later. And, in the end, he said the decision over what would happen with that game was ultimately left up to the Lakers.

"I think this was a process where we were going to be in ongoing discussions, and I will say, for people who have been around the league for a long time know that it's fairly extraordinary to cancel a game for all kinds of reasons," Silver said. "It's not necessarily economic reasons. It's just for competitive reasons.

"We have a schedule. How will you deal with that game? When will it get rescheduled? What other impacts will that have? In many cases, it's not even clear that the players themselves want to cancel the game."

Ultimately, though, the decision was made to postpone the game in order to allow everyone involved the chance to collect themselves after what had been a very emotional 48 hours.

"I think there was a sense that the first time there was going to be a Laker game, that there was going to be a coming together, intense coming together of Laker fans, Kobe fans, and how was this going to be handled?" Silver said. "So I think there was sort of the issue of the game itself, but then what was that experience going to be like in the arena? And I think given, when we looked at the schedule and saw that then the next home game was Friday night, we all collectively decided with the Lakers and the Clippers that that made the most sense."

In addition to being part of the NBA for all of Bryant's tenure, Silver also spent more than two decades working under his own predecessor, David Stern, before taking over for him six years ago this month.

Stern, who ran the league for 30 years, died on Jan. 1, adding another layer of sadness to what typically is a celebratory weekend for the NBA each year.

"When I came to the NBA in 1992, my first job was as the special assistant to commissioner Stern," Silver said. "I then had a series of jobs, five different jobs at the NBA, before I became commissioner, and over those 22 years, I was fortunate to always have the privilege to work directly for David Stern.

"I would just say he became not only my mentor but an incredibly close friend. He was there when I got married. He was one of the first people to hug my daughter when she was born. I remain very close to his wife, Dianne, and his two children, Andrew and Eric, and it's a huge loss certainly for the league."

Few people knew Stern better than Silver, given how long, and how closely, the two of them worked together. And, because of that, few appreciated the way Stern relentlessly pushed the NBA from where it was when he became commissioner in 1984 to where it is today.

"He was a force of nature for those who got to work for him," Silver said. "At the time -- I know it's storied, but when he came to the league, first as the general counsel in the late '70s and as the commissioner in 1984, it was a time when our Finals were still on tape delay. As I said, he had a vision for what this league could become, and that league involved it being a major factor in the sports world. He had a belief that this league can be truly global. He embraced technology when it came along. He saw how the internet could transform this business.

"He saw how satellite distribution could bring us live to 215 countries around the world, which is where we are today, and I'd say for many of us in this league, it's been a difficult time because, not only had we all worked for him for so long, but we remained close to him over the last several years, since I've been commissioner."

Silver added that the thing that he saw in common between Stern and Bryant was their singular focus on winning -- in the business world for Stern, on the basketball court for Bryant -- and how both of them changed after their times on the job came to an end.

"[Kobe] and David, interestingly, had a lot in common," Silver said. "They were both determined to win. They could be difficult at times because they prioritized winning, and often, they didn't have time for some of the niceties around personal relationships because it was about winning, at least while Kobe was a player.

"But what I also saw in Kobe, and you saw a little bit of this in David in his post in the period after he was commissioner, that aspect of their personality was a bit contrived in that they push people because they wanted them to be their very best, and recognizing that it meant at times people might not like them, but that's what it was about, that competition is about winning."

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