The All-Star Game was made for Kobe Bryant. Playoff and regular-season NBA play brings with it certain constraints: defenses of post-millennial complexity; structured, ball-movement oriented offenses; the good taste and common sense prohibitions against shooting every time one touches the ball. But in the All-Star context, Kobe’s miraculous skills can run wild and free, can exist in their purest form. Nobody, not even Michael Jordan, KB’s stylistic forefather, has ever manipulated the high post so gracefully; nobody could ever make a missed fadeaway three look quite so beautiful. And in the All-Star Game, if it looks awesome, it is awesome. Without the regular season’s restrictive communitarian morality, Kobe is free to perform his sublime dance.
At the same time, even as Kobe benefits from the game’s freedoms, his burning competitiveness and the focussed intention that graces all of his movements stands out from and gives meaning to what is otherwise a pretty languid, un-compelling spectacle. He just seems more attuned, more composed, more on purpose than any other player on the floor. In the All-Star Game, Kobe Bryant really does look like the greatest basketball player in the world.
Kevin Love has other ways of disrupting the normal flow of All-Star complacency. On both ends of the floor, Love seemed aimless and out of place, lost in the space between all of that isolated, unfettered performance. But when shots would go up on the glass, Love managed to create a space of his own signature intensity. That he generally lost these boards to his longer and more athletic colleagues (Russell Westbrook, in particular, vaulted over Love’s back with some tremendous verve) did not change the fact that, at those moments alone, the game took on Kevin’s lusty aura.
Nevertheless, it became clear on Sunday that Love is not actually meant for the All-Star Game. This is not to say that he should not be mentioned along with the best players in the biz, but simply that the most prized skills in this game–virtuosic ballhandling and body control, supreme vertical athleticism, Kobe skills, in other words–are simply not in Love’s bag. As I pointed out on Thursday, Kevin does his best work carving out space within the structure and flow of a game, finding niches between the action’s conventional patterns. And so, in a game with no structure and no pattern, in which sheer individual spectacularity trumps everything, Kevin, despite those frantic seconds on the glass and his many humming outlet passes, was not much more than a bystander.