CHICAGO — In the end, the special number to honor Kobe Bryant during Sunday’s All-Star Game was 157.
The new Bryant-inspired scoring system didn’t elevate the defensive intensity at the All-Star Game at United Center until the all-important fourth quarter, when it became ferocious, foul-plagued, controversial, chaotic and thrilling.
Bryant, killed in a helicopter crash Jan. 26, would have loved it.
A total of 157 points wound up as the game-ending target score and Anthony Davis hit the jackpot with a free throw after being fouled by the undersized Kyle Lowry in the paint following an entry pass from LeBron James. Davis missed the first but made the next to end it.
That shot eked out a 157-155 victory for Team LeBron over Team Giannis (Antetokounmpo) to earn the $300,000 bonus for its Chicago charity as Kawhi Leonard won the first Kobe Bryant All-Star MVP Award with 30 points.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” James said. “But throughout the whole fourth quarter everybody was like, ‘That was pretty damn fun.’ “
Leonard sank his first four 3-pointers in the first quarter and sank 8 of 14 for the contest for LeBron’s super team.
“Winning it is a plus,” Leonard said. “I made my first [four] shots and that’s when I told myself I’m going to try to get it. I had a relationship with [Kobe]. Words can’t explain how happy I am to put that trophy in my trophy room, to see Kobe’s name there. He was a big inspiration in my life.”
Up 154-153, James Harden thought he had won it for Team LeBron sinking a 3-point shot, but it was waved off. Harden was called for a charge on Lowry before the shot.
James scored on a dunk to make it 156-153. Joel Embiid made two free throws to cut it to 156-155, but Davis ended it on the next possession after getting held in the paint.
James said it was a busted play — aimed at first for Leonard. Davis was doubled initially before getting a mismatch with Lowry.
The cumulative score was installed to start the fourth quarter at 133-124 in favor of Team Giannis but Team LeBron rallied to win. The target score was constructed by adding 24 points to the leading team’s total of 133.
Each squad wore jersey patches with the number “9” to represent the number of people killed in the helicopter crash. Team Giannis wore “24” — Bryant’s jersey number — and Team LeBron wore the “2” his daughter Gianna wore.
In the fourth quarter, another tribute was added as the shot clock turned purple when it hit eight — Bryant’s other jersey number.
Asked if the competitive ferocity in the final period honored by Bryant, James said, “We wouldn’t be all-stars if we weren’t competitors. You could definitely feel his presence just from the start. Every time you saw Giannis’ team run on the floor, you saw the ‘2-4.’ “
It was a night of uncontested 3-point shots and terrific alley-oops until the fourth quarter. Team LeBron won the first quarter to add $100,000 to its charity (Chicago scholars foundation). Team Giannis won the second quarter for its charity (Chicago afterschools programs) and the third quarter was tied — with the money rolled over to the team which won the game.
The fourth quarter featured charges, coach’s challenges and a key replay review that wiped out a late goaltending call against Antetokounmpo on a James layup.
Antetokounmpo finished with 25 points. Chris Paul, 34, keyed Team LeBron with 23 points and a rare alley-oop dunk. Paul hadn’t dunked in an NBA game in four years.
“That’s one thing about Kobe,” Paul said. “whenever he was on our team in the All-Star Game, there wasn’t none of that cool stuff. It was like, as long as they throw the ball up, let’s get to it.”
On this unprecedented night, a 44-minute pregame ceremony began with Magic Johnson addressing the crowd, paying tribute to former commissioner David Stern, who died Jan. 1, and Bryant.
Johnson said soon after his 1991 HIV announcement Stern “allowed me to stay in the All-Star Game” and feels Stern saved lives as a result. The former Lakers great said that few knew Bryant was in the process of helping to alleviate the homeless problem in Los Angeles.
“We need to embrace each other at this tough time — Kobe would’ve wanted that,” Johnson said, asking for an eight-second moment of silence.
Pictures of Kobe throughout his life flashed on the scoreboard as Chicago native Jennifer Hudson sang with pure emotion the heartfelt ballad, “For All We Know.” The rapper “Common” weaved a wonderful tribute to the city of Chicago, singing to all the basketball legends to come out of the city, including Isiah Thomas and Dwyane Wade, and to Bulls’ icon Michael Jordan, who was not in attendance.