Its not every athlete that gets to choose their own retirement exit strategy, but then again, not every athlete is as spectacularly talented or as remarkably polarizing as Kobe Bryant.
In the midst of his well-publicized Farewell Tour, and finishing up his twentieth and final year as a member of the LA Lakers, Kobe will be making a stop in Toronto for the 2016 NBA All Star Game on Sunday February 14th at the Air Canada Centre. It’ll mark his 18th consecutive All-Star appearance, second only to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 19, and to add some intrigue to the occasion, his 1,891,614 fan votes was the most of any of this year’s starters, East or West. More than Stephen Curry. More than LeBron James. More than Carmelo Anthony. To put that all into a little more hoops perspective, the entire starting lineup of the Western Conference, sans Kobe, totals 16 All-Star game appearances.
Yes, Kobe Bryant still has game.
But back to the Farewell Tour, which some say has become a sideshow given that, at 37 and battling a spate of recent injuries, Kobe is relying on sentiment to ignite the crowds rather than skill. Whatever. Get over it. Farewell Tours might be rare, but they’re not new, although they are reserved for some rarified company. In recent years, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, New York Yankee lifers, did a season long circuit to an adoring baseball community. David Ortiz seems poised to do the same come Spring Training. We were allowed to say nice goodbyes to Mario and Wayne – its not unprecedented by any stretch. And if there were any basketball player in history that deserves this type of adoration, why not Kobe? Here’s some of the remarkable list of accomplishments: 5 time NBA Champion, MVP in 2008, twice an NBA scoring champion, Los Angeles Laker’s all time leading scorer, and the aforementioned 18 All Star appearances. And above it all, he’s one hell of an entertainer, and he’ll be missed.
The 2016 NBA All Star Game will feature all of the bells and whistles we’ve come to expect, not to mention its share of unexpected hoopla as well. There’ll be the Celebrity Game, USA vs. Canada, and stars like Kevin Hart and Milos Raonic rocking the ACC. There’s the Rising Stars Challenge, Skills Competition – and a pair of event favourites, of course: the Three-Point Contest (Hello Stephen Curry) and the king of them all, the Slam Dunk Contest. (Welcome back, Zach Levine). The game will provide some of the best individual plays and performances of the year. That’s what happens when there’s nobody getting in your way, but more important than anything else, it’s going to be about Kobe. As it should be.
So it’s an All-Star stop on the Kobe Bryant Farewell Tour at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. As mentioned, it’s the 18th such appearance of perhaps the greatest NBA career of all time. There’ll be a few more stops before it’s over, as fans who loved and hated him stand in unison to cheer him on one more time. And then, finally, there’ll be that final stop too – at the NBA Hall Of Fame. First ballot. No worries. Nothing but net.