When the NBA’s All-Star starters were announced last week, there was only one new face: Andrew Bynum as the West’s center, in his debut All-Star game. The other nine were the game’s biggest names, a list that included Bynum’s Laker teammate Kobe Bryant for a record-tying 14th consecutive year (The All-Star reserves will be revealed Thursday on TNT.).
Bynum may have bested Bryant when he entered the league as its youngest player ever, but he’ll have a hard time topping the Black Mamba’s bananas All-Star debut. The game has always been a Who’s Who? of stars, but back when Bryant broke in, his showing made everyone say, “Who does he think he is?” (You can imagine Kobe’s answer, 14 years later: “You’re welcome.”)
So we reminisced by going back to 1998, where the 19-year-old, second-year Laker added to his All-Star Weekend credentials a year after winning the slam dunk title as a rook.
Now, given perfect hindsight, how could Bryant not have gone off for 18 points â€” most on the West â€” and taken Jordan every chance he got? It’s all there: the “rivalry” with MJ, playing on the game’s grandest stage at Madison Square Garden. There was a progression there that, though it didn’t necessarily point toward five rings yet, started with a record 31 in the Rookie Game in 1997 in Cleveland. Then, on Dec. 17, just two months before the ASG, Bryant dropped 33 on No. 23 and Chicago.
Most of his performance will be remembered for famously waving off a screen from Karl Malone, preferring to go at MJ one-on-one. Will Bynum be going after anyone every chance he gets? I doubt it. He may have been the league’s youngest, but the title of best ASG debut still hangs with Bryant. You’re welcome.
What do you remember about Kobe in his first All-Star meeting with Jordan?
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