SportsLine: Back in February, which feels like years ago given all that’s happened since, it seemed like the NBA was trying to crown Dwyane Wade its new king. He was everywhere you looked during All-Star weekend, peering down from billboards and buildings, blending into the Las Vegas landscape as if he were Wayne Newton or Danny Gans.
That made Kobe Bryant play harder. It may have been an exhibition game to everyone else, but for him, the 2007 All-Star Game was a chance to send a message.
Bryant won MVP, putting on a show more memorable than Christina Aguilera’s halftime stint. Bryant, competitive fire burning violently, was the best of the best just because he wanted to be.
Because he could.
Those memories came rushing back watching Bryant during his first action for the U.S. National Team last month. Back in Las Vegas, scrimmaging against other members of Team USA in a game that came down to the final few possessions, Bryant nailed three huge jumpers over the likes of LeBron James and Tayshaun Prince to deliver victory. It wasn’t that he made good on one-on-one situations that was special, because we’ve all grown used to watching him take over games throughout the years, but it was surreal to see guys like Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant clearing out for anybody.
For Kobe, they stood aside and watched him work. Bryant came through, then ensured his team’s win by locking up LeBron on the final possession. The king of the lions marked his territory.