By Jake Meister
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced Saturday that the All-Star Game’s Most Valuable Player trophy would named in honor of the late Kobe Bryant.
The 18-time All-Star and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, died in a helicopter crash outside of Los Angeles on Jan. 26. They were among nine deaths in the tragedy.
“I know it will be especially meaningful to that player that wins the first Kobe Bryant MVP,” Silver said.
Bryant is only one of two players in NBA history to have earned the All-Star MVP on four occasions, the other being Hall of Famer Bob Pettit.
“To all of us, it seemed like the appropriate way to bring honor to him,” Silver said.
Silver compared Bryant to commissioner emeritus and the late David Stern, who died on Jan. 1 after suffering from a brain hemorrhage.
The commissioner noted his predecessor’s and Bryant’s drive to always be a winner. While at the helm, Stern helped push the NBA into the internet age and established the league’s presence abroad, using Bryant’s outgoing personality and vast knowledge of foreign cultures like Italy to his advantage.
“That aspect of their [Bryant’s and Stern’s] 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,” Silver said.
In addition to naming the MVP trophy in Bryant’s honor, the game itself will feature a series of tributes too. Players on Team LeBron will sport No. 2 in honor of Gianna while Team Giannis superstars will have Kobe’s No. 24 stitched onto their uniforms.
The fourth quarter will be untimed. Each team will compete for a target score that will be 24 points added to the total of the leading team after the third quarter.
For example, if one team is leading 120-115 after the third frame, the first team to 144 points will win the game.
Out of the 24 players competing Sunday night, six are making their first appearance. Many of these newcomers grew up watching Bryant and idolizing him, in addition to the veterans who squared off against the five-time NBA champion on the hardwood.
“He [Bryant] was talking to them about the belief in winning — that extra drive, that inner beast he called it, that was necessary to truly be a champion,” Silver said.
Silver also spoke about the league’s current relationship with China and if it had improved since the nation’s government broadcaster CCTV stopped airing games last October. This was one response from the government after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted: “Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong,” during the city’s protests last fall centered around an extradition law.
The network has not aired NBA action since, but Silver said he expects it to in the future. However, that timeframe remains unclear. Silver also noted the NBA has lost nearly $400 million from its inability to provide content to fans in China.
“It’s substantial,” Silver said. “I don’t want to run from that. We were taken off the air in China for a period of time, and it caused our many business partners in China to feel it was, therefore, inappropriate to have ongoing relationships with us.”
Silver said there will most likely be other honors established in Bryant’s name as the league continues to reflect on his legacy in the following months while it also attempts to rebuild its relationship with China.
“Kobe Bryant is synonymous with NBA All-Star and embodies the spirit of this global celebration of our game,” Silver said. “He always relished the opportunity to compete with the best of the best and perform at the highest level for millions of fans around the world.”