New Orleans • Kobe Bryant spent part of his All-Star Saturday watching the Olympics on television.
"My mission actually yesterday was trying to figure out the rules of curling as I watch the sport of curling," the Lakers guard said. "I failed miserably, but it was still fun to watch."
The Slam Dunk contest later that night? That just failed miserably.
"I grew up with the old-school rules, when Dominique [Wilkins] and Michael [Jordan] were competing and I guess I'm kind of a purist at heart," Bryant said. "I would much rather watch that type of Dunk contest format."
But for those like Bryant, who were left disappointed by the NBA's revamped Slam Dunk rules, Sunday was restitution, as Blake Griffin, LeBron James and Co. put on an aerial display that you wondering if the contest somehow had been pushed back a day.
"It's fun, man," said Griffin, whose 38 points were four shy of tying Wilt Chamberlain's All-Star record. "This game is for the fans. And to be able to do the things that they want to see, they don't really want to see me shooting jump shots, so it's cool to be able to get up and down and have fun with it."
"We've got some high leapers out there," said ex-Jazz forward Paul Millsap, who logged 15 minutes and scored six points in his first All-Star Game. "LeBron, Blake. Those two guys put on a show tonight."
And that's what All-Star Weekend is — a show.
"A success. It was unbelievably tiring. You're here and there, but what better city to be in than New Orleans," said Clippers point guard Chris Paul, once a basketball fixture in the Crescent City, in describing the event.
The weekend was as packed with story lines as the French Quarter was with partygoers.
New NBA commissioner Adam Silver, just a few weeks into replacing David Stern, offered a first look into his plans for league.
There were the league's budding superstars: Damian Lillard competed in five of the weekend's events, the first player ever to do so; Steph Curry, the league's best shooter, got the nod as a starter after perceived snubs from the game; Washington's John Wall won a convoluted dunk contest.
There were some other up-and-comers.
Millsap, at age 29, was the oldest of the All-Star "rookies."
"This is just the start for me," he said. "A great experience. Extra motivation to work hard. It was amazing to be out there with these guys. I had a blast. Hopefully I can come back."
Jazz rookie Trey Burke got his first All-Star weekend experience, winning the Skills title alongside Lillard and expressing his renewed motivation to play in the big game someday.
Meanwhile, Indiana's Frank Vogel coached an East team that included two of his own players, Paul George and Roy Hibbert, who will now go back to trying to break the Miami Heat's grip on the NBA Finals.
The old guard was there, too.
Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki, at age 35, went scoreless in what could have been his last All-Star game. Brooklyn's Joe Johnson, in his seventh All-Star Game, carried a camera at times, snapping up some memories.
Bryant was in New Orleans, too, though wearing a suit on Sunday instead of playing in his 16th All-Star game.
"It's tough coming here though because normally when you come, the competitive juices are already flowing, now it's kind of looking at it from a different perspective, but you also get a chance to soak it all in a little bit more and kind of sit back and watch and observe," he said.
The future Hall of Famer hopes to return to the Lakers this year and start his bid for a 17th All-Star game next year. Although, if he planned otherwise, he probably wouldn't give much of a heads up, the way Yankees great Derek Jeter just did.
"I don't really want the rocking chair before the game," he said of his eventual retirement plans. "It would drive me crazy. But I'll probably just pop up and just vanish."
On Sunday, Pharrell, Snoop Dogg and Nelly performed for 20 minutes during player introductions. Magic Johnson led the crowd in singing "Happy Birthday" to NBA legend Bill Russell, who turned 80.
Russell, by the way, would be on Kobe's Basketball Mt. Rushmore, next Jordan, Bird and Magic. (Jazz legend Karl Malone, however, didn't want anything to do with all the recent Mt. Rushmore talk "unless it has something to do with hunting and fishing.")
The the ball was tossed up in the air and the rest is a blur.
The East beat the West, with the two teams combining for 318 points, the most ever in the history of the event. The previous record of 303 was set in 1987.
Defense took the night off, though no one asked it to show up."
Between the two teams, 242 shots were taken. Not a single block was recorded.
"They all laughed at me," Vogel said of suggesting to D up with his side down 18 points at one time. "I did say it with half a smile, and they all laughed at me. I said OK, I see what you're saying. So if you care about winning, that what you got to do. It's up to you guys."
Kevin Durant topped the 30-point mark, something he's done a lot in what some believe could be the season he takes the MVP award away from LeBron James. But Durant simply seemed happy to be playing alongside former teammate James Harden on Sunday.
"He's going to be a brother to me forever," Durant said.
Harden's trade from Oklahoma City to Houston, of course, is one of the realities of the business. Players move, for money and minutes and opportunity.
That's why the crowds surrounded Minnesota's Kevin Love, who can become a free agent after next season. And around Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, who hit a 3-pointer with a minute left to help pus the East to victory.
"I've been telling you that it was going to be hard for me to try and enjoy this weekend," said Anthony, whose Knicks have struggled at times this season, "but I did. I found a way."
Kyrie Irving's 31-point, 14-assist MVP night didn't hurt the night either.
"Man, he put on a show," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said of the game's surprise MVP. "I said forget a dunk contest, do a layup contest and he'll win it. He's got so much pizzazz when it comes to laying the ball up. He just did an unbelievable job of taking over and making big shots for us. He deserved the MVP tonight. Because of him we're all smiling a little bigger."
That's got to count for something.
— Aaron Falk
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