A week and day ago, during the NBA All-Star game, yours truly learned much. First, the city of Brotherly Love, a.k.a. Philly, will boo anyone. In the 51st NBA All-Star Game, Kobe Bryant scored 31 points on 12 for 25 shooting to notch MVP honors. Kobe was spectacular at his hometown, tallying up five assists and five rebounds. But his presence wasn't felt just in the box score. With Kobe leading the way, the West outscored their Eastern counterparts 135 to 120, and out rebounded them 63 to 51. The West also made crisper passes and executed better plays to dish out 10 more assists than the East. But despite Kobe's masterful performance, the Philly crowd rained boos on him during the second half.
As the crowd quickly realized the East was not going to win and their hometown hero, Allen Iverson, was not going repeat last year's MVP performance, the city that once booed Santa Claus serenaded Bryant with taunts and jeers every time he touched the ball. Despite the fact that Kobe was probably the only player putting a decent effort to put on a show, Tracy McGrady excluded, the crowd insistently booed and hissed at every single basket Kobe made. Bryant was clearly distraught over the poor reception. "I'm happy I played well," Bryant later said. "I'm happy to win MVP in Philadelphia, and the booing was just hurtful. But it's not going to ruin this day for me."
Even while Kobe was awarded the MVP trophy, the crowd let him have one last, long, and painful chorus of boos. Bryant was clearly unnerved. Don Nelson, the Western All-Stars coach, tried to console the 23-year-old, "I said, 'Don't take it personal, they wish they had you. Forget about it. Who cares if they boo you?' They were having some fun." Some NBA players also were surprised with the crowd's rude reception. "That reaction is something beyond my understanding," West center Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs said. "He put on a show for the fans and that is what this game is all about."
But clearly the game was not just about the poor reception or Kobe's wonderful performance. This was supposed to be a game featuring the return of a guy called Michael Jordan and his supposed rematch against the NBA's brightest young stars. It was instead a game that featured random alley-oop passes from McGrady to McGrady (has that ever happened?) and misfired three-pointers, mostly from Steve Francis.
In the first half, Jordan proved mortal. MJ went in for a wide open, fast break dunk and missed, sending the basketball sky high into the rafters. Jordan laughed it off and later explained that he was so wide open, he thought too much about what he was going to do with the dunk; he didn't execute it properly. The crowd was astonished at first, but slowly they recovered, after an emphatic dunk by McGrady. In only his second All-Star game, 22-year-old T-Mac passed Nowitzki and Nash with a lob off the backboard to himself, which he followed with a two hand facial, in one fluid motion. T-Mac also contributed 24 points on nine for 15 shooting, four assists, and three steals.
The game also featured a barrage of three-point shooting in the fourth quarter that showcased sharp shooting skills from Ray Allen, international sensations Peja Stojakovic (winner of this year's AT&T Shootout), Nowitzki, and Nash. In a late rally by the East, Allen made several off-balanced clutch threes. But the West quickly countered with transitional threes from Nash and Stojakovic. Each three by the East was quickly negated by Stojo or Nash's three pointers. After Payton hit a game clinching three that pretty much eliminated any repeat of last year's miraculous Eastern comeback, the West had won the All-Star game, 135 to 120. Kobe Bryant was MVP and Philly fans were left with their just-desserts, a disappointing performance from their pseudo-Rocky figure, Iverson, making only two for nine.
What was I saying?