Orlando, FL – The West was cruising Sunday night when Kobe Star Game history.
Instead of the normal matador type defense in these types of environments, Bryant was contested by Dwyane Wade from behind and slapped hard across the shoulders and nose.
The lackluster Central Florida crowd gasped, likely stunned they saw such effort in an All-Star Game.
Whether it was that or that extra $25k in Bottle Service money for the winners, the annual midseason showcase got competitive from there and turned out to be an extremely entertaining affair.
"I obviously didn't try to draw no blood, but I took a foul," Wade said following a 152-149 loss to the West. "Kobe fouled me two times in a row, so he's still got one up on me."
Bryant and the West were routing Wade and the East by a 96-81 margin when the Heat superstar decided he was in Orlando so he might as well play.
Bryant, as cool as ever, checked his nose before making a free throw and then showed the referee the blood from the foul which forced a medical timeout. He then came back and made the second, tying MJ before leaving him in the dust moments later.
Known as the most competitive player in the game, Kobe asserted himself early as the most serious player on the floor and was joined by Kevin Durant, the eventual MVP, and Blake Griffin as guys in it to win it.
You could see the stark contrast between Bryant and the East's best player, LeBron James, during the pre-game introductions. With Nicki Minaj lighting up Amway Center as the background music, Kobe looked as serious as a heart attack while LeBron and Dwight Howard of the hometown Magic emerged mugging for the cameras and dancing.
While the All-Star Game has become about the celebrities and the parties for most, it's always been about winning for the 33-year-old Bryant.
To his credit Wade got the message and became tired of playing General to Bryant's Globetrotter and he brought James along for the ride. LeBron, D-Wade and Derrick Rose were spectacular in the fourth quarter for the East.
A 27-foot bomb by James got the Orlando crowd thinking its side was coming back and sure enough the East had its chance in the waning seconds. In fact, James had at least two opportunities to attempt a winning three.
Instead "The King" played Brett Favre throwing the costly interception at the most inopportune time and there was Bryant, deriding the superstar for his famous fourth quarter struggles, taunting him or not shooting.
"Yeah, he was telling me to shoot it," James said. "I'd seen my teammate open for a split second -- I told him I'd seen him open the first time and I didn't release the ball.
"When I tried to throw it late, that's what usually happens and it results in a turnover. Definitely wish I could have that one back."
In the end the result really didn't matter -- it never does. But the competition sure did.
Maybe Jeremy Evans should have channeled Maximus after winning the Slam Dunk contest on Saturday night. He could have went to center court at Amway Center and screamed "Are you non entertained?".
The fans in Orlando weren't quite the Romans at the Colosseum this weekend but like most NBA fans, they have become more than a bit jaded. Perhaps they haven't seen Christians thrown to the Lions but the spectators on hand in Central Florida reminded me of a little of wrestling zealots, they've seen far too much and they aren't going back.
A Bob Backlund-Magnificent Muraco 60-minute classic isn't going to cut it any longer. These people want to see Mankind flying through the air after being thrown off a cage by The Undertaker or Terry Funk slammed through a flaming table.
The bar has been re-set and it's too high.
Comedian Kevin Hart was a big hit during All-Star festivities and that should be a a dead giveaway that the weekend is about the entertainment, not the competition itself. It's a showcase for the game's best along with the freakish athletes and rising stars that dot the rosters of each NBA team.
The diminutive funny man was the MVP of the Celebrity Game, not so much for his eight points and six assists but the 10 or so jokes that broke up the Jam Session crowd. He also helped Evans take the slam dunk crown by acting as a prop for the human pogo-stick.
I've always thought of sports as the first real reality show, the first form of non-scripted entertainment that foreshadowed the genre's grip on the American public.
Walking back to the media shuttle on Saturday, I overheard both fans and writers calling the Shooting Stars and Skills challenge stupid. Meanwhile, the 'dunk contest gets lamer every year,' according to my short study worthy of Scientific America.
About the only thing that escapes the barrage of negativity is the Three-Point Shootout, although the true cynics are always quick to note who isn't shooting the ball.
The "I remember Larry Bird crowd" forgets that the lightly-regarded Craig Hodges trumped anything "Larry Legend" ever did in the Shootout. Of course, I wish I could forget Hodges too after the former Bulls sharpshooter came back this year to prove he didn't have it any more.
On the other hand, Allan Houston and Kenny Smith proved the opposite in the Shooting Stars, they still have it and it was fun to see or at least it should have been. It's also amazing to see how effortlessly Tony Parker and Deron Williams glide on a basketball court during the Skills Challenge even if D- Will gave up after missing a couple of jumpers.
That's not to say there is nothing wrong with All-Star Weekend. Personally, I'm down on the way TNT and the NBA have turned it into a bad episode of WWE Monday Night Raw, where lame writers, who have likely flamed out on All My Children, come up with terrible lines to feed people like P-Diddy.
About the only thing more wooden than Chase Budinger interacting with the rap superstar on Saturday was the stool I was sitting on in the hotel bar afterwards.
The dunk contest, of course, seems to get the most criticism and I can't quite figure it out. I do know there have been so many legendary jams over the years that a powerful windmill does nothing for people.
Evans was both creative and had a dunk for the ages on Saturday. On his first try, the little known Jazz forward bounced the ball to himself and sent home a reverse slam with a small camera fixed to his right ear to capture the action. Add a sticker and Dwight Howard's smile and that might have lived forever but the Orlando crowd groaned, not realizing it was a made for TV slam.
On Evans' second dunk, his prop was teammate Gordon Hayward and it was a classic. Hayward sat in a chair facing away from the basket and tossed two balls high above his head. Evans soared over Hayward, caught both balls and slammed them home in succession to the delight of the crowd. Maybe if he had the length of JaVale McGee and slammed three it would have moved the Richter Scale.
Prior to his third dunk, Evans was approached by Hart, who was dressed as a mailman. Hart delivered Evans a vintage Karl Malone jersey and the youngster donning the apparel of the Utah Jazz legend, nicknamed "The Mailman", before leaping over Hart and slamming.
It was anti-climatic and forced. Evans probably should have shown better judgement and used his second dunk last but the guy is a deserving slam champ, he's not Nate Robinson, taking 14 attempts to complete a dunk or Derrick Williams, who bit off way more than he could chew on Saturday by trying to throw it off the glass and go between his legs before jamming.
Yet, all I heard after the show was how bad the contest was.
It's always been a theory of mine that the public only wants to see stars dunk but after last season when Blake Griffin won by jumping over a car, you got the 'he only jumped over the hood' crap. Think about it, a 6-foot-10 guy that can record a double-double whenever he wants jumping over the hood of a Kia ... that's not good enough?
My new thesis is that all anyone wants to see is LeBron in the contest and until they see it, everything will be a disappointment. On the other hand, if "The King" hopped a Kia or Wade while dunking two basketballs off on an alley-oop with his Urkel glasses on, the world just might implode.
Let's be honest -- at no time was Michael Jordan the best dunker is basketball and neither is James right now. The best slam artists are usually pedestrian players like Gerald Green and Evans, widely athletic people that have major holes in their games. Occasionally a true great like Julius Erving of Dominique Wilkins is at the top but that's rare so let's just enjoy the feats themselves.
In a prior interview commissioner David Stern addressed the critics of his Slam Dunk Contest.
"It's only the grinches who want to say, 'Oh, my God, that wasn't fun enough," Stern said.
And he's right.
Are you not entertained?
Because you should have been.