Bryant, Kerr & Iverson highlight All-Star Saturday
CLEVELAND (AP) _ Kobe Bryant, the kid, is now The Man.
In a performance that undoubtedly left high school seniors all over the country thinking they, too, are ready for the NBA, Bryant was the show Saturday night.
The 18-year-old, who jumped directly from the preps to the pros, joined the ranks of slam dunk champions by winning the final event of All-Star Saturday. He also scored 31 points in the evening’s first attraction, the rookie game.
``Winning the dunk contest is something I dreamed about since I was a little kid,″ Bryant said.
Hey, he still is a little kid.
It was just four years ago that Bryant, then 14, dunked for the first time in his life. Less than a year ago, he was going to his senior prom with pop star Brandy, who was at the competition.
In June, he joined the Los Angeles Lakers. And in November he became the youngest player ever to appear in an NBA game.
Age, however, wasn’t the determining factor in the dunk contest. It had more to do with style.
And Bryant added a dominant dose of stylin’ following his best dunk of the night.
On Bryant’s winning jam, he ran toward the basket, jumped into the air, passed the ball between his legs and finished it off with a right-handed windmill.
But that wasn’t the end.
Bryant strutted over to the bench where all the regular All-Stars sat, assumed a bodybuilder flex pose and pursed his lips into a pucker.
The All-Stars, some of them nearly twice as old as this precocious youngster, absolutely loved it.
``Man, that part was sweet,″ Alonzo Mourning said.
It was a pose Bryant first assumed in his last dunk contest _ a high school dunk-off held in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
``The crowd got me real pumped up after the dunk, and I just felt like flexing. I don’t have much, but I flexed what I have.
``I don’t do that kind of stuff in a game, only in a dunking competition,″ Bryant added.
The judges gave him 49 out of a possible 50 points, and Chris Carr and Michael Finley could come up with nothing to match it.
If Bryant’s team hadn’t lost in the rookie game, he might have gone home with two trophies. Bryant scored 31 points, but Allen Iverson got the MVP trophy for scoring 19 points with nine assists and three steals as the East beat the West 96-91.
The crowd booed when Iverson was announced as the winner, and he vowed to get back at them when his Philadelphia 76ers play the Cleveland Cavaliers when the season resumes.
``Maybe people felt that Kobe should have won it. He played a great ballgame and they probably felt he was supposed to have won it because he had 31 points.
``It’s not something I’m going to let bother me,″ Iverson said. ``We have a chance to play them here Tuesday night, so for them booing me I can’t wait to come back in and play the Cavaliers.
The night’s other highlight was Steve Kerr, the self-proclaimed ``Susan Lucci of the 3-point contest,″ finally winning the event in his fourth try.
Kerr beat out defending champion Tim Legler, who hasn’t yet played a game for the Washington Bullets this season because he has been recovering from reconstructive knee surgery.
Kerr totaled 22 points to Legler’s 18 in the final round. He made nine in a row at one point and sank all five of the multicolored balls that were worth two points.
``Susan, it’s your turn now. The pressure is on you,″ Kerr said with a laugh.
Lucci is a soap opera star who has been nominated for 16 Emmy Awards but has never won.
Jim Valente of Bradenton Beach, Fla., won’t get another chance at his award _ and what an award it would have been.
Valente, who needed to make a 3-point shot to win $1 million, fired up a two-handed set shot that drifted off to the left.
Of his two-handed shot, which more resembled the style that was popular in the 1940s and ’50s, Valente said: ``When I got the basketball on Jan. 24 at 3 o’clock, I said, `How hard could this be?′ But I learned I didn’t have the strength to get it there (with one hand) or the accuracy.
``I felt more comfortable with the set shot. We had times I was shooting 40 to 50 percent in the gym. But this is a little different than being in a high school gym.″
The night got off to a slow start with a rookie game that featured more free throws than dunks. It took 88 minutes to complete the game, which was broken into two 15 minute halves.
The teams combined to shoot 55 free throws, and the players made only 38. The East squad was particularly poor, shooting just 16-for-28. Every player who went to the line missed at least once, and Boston Celtics rookie Antoine Walker even had an airball late in the second half.