NBA All-Star Game 2016: Kobe Bryant takes centre stage
Raptors Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan shine bright in star-studded game
Farewell Kobe. Hello Kyle and DeMar.
The Air Canada Centre in Toronto was packed on Sunday night for the NBA All-Star Game, the annual contest that pits the league's best against each other in a fierce battle to see who can make the most highlight plays.
In the end, Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder was named MVP, but two Toronto Raptors played a starring role in the evening's festivities.
Here are a few of the highlights.
The Kobe show
Fireworks burst behind Lakers star Kobe Bryant as he entered his final All-Star game – possibly the biggest game he'll play as his career winds down.
Magic Johnson, another Laker great, toasted Bryant during a pre-game ceremony.
Bryant thanked the roaring crowd — who chanted "Kobe! Kobe! Kobe!" repeatedly — telling them how happy he was to be playing in the All-Star Game.
"It's thrilling to be here," he said.
Expect him to get plenty of shots tonight, fan Roland Martin said.
"Tonight's all about Kobe."
The Raptors All-Stars, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, both entered to thunderous applause and both put on a show.
Lowry had 14 points and 10 assists, including several spectacular alley-oop lobs.
And DeRozan scored 18 and did this in the process:
Effortless. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/DeMarDeRozan?src=hash">#DeMarDeRozan</a> <a href="https://t.co/MDiTfYyTQd">https://t.co/MDiTfYyTQd</a>—@Raptors
A smile and a dance
Westbrook, the game's MVP as voted by fans, rained down three-point shots and threw down some powerful dunks. But it was his dance moves and great big grin that surprised journalists. What happened to the ultra-aggressive Westbrook of the regular season?
"I know a lot of people don't see me smile a lot during the season, so I like to smile a little bit during the All-Star Weekend and enjoy my time and have fun," Westbrook told reporters after the game.
Looks good on him.
So what's better, an All-Star Game or a Raptors playoff push?
Chris Oak and Richard Fung, both decked out in Raps gear, said it's a toss up.
"Both are amazing feelings," Oak said, admitting this weekend has left him feeling star-struck.
Raptors games do have an intensity, Fung said, as all the fans are cheering for the same thing. But then again, the All-Star Game is special: "We're probably never going to get the All-Star Game again," he said.
Hey coach, want to go for dinner?
Torontonians Alison and Gareth Gibbins are big San Antonio Spurs fans, in case you couldn't tell from the picture. But it's not just the players they love, it's the coach — the brilliant and surly Gregg Popovich, who was coaching the West team.
"I want to see Pops. I want to see him smile," Alison said.
"If there's one person I could have dinner with in the whole world, it would be Popovich," Gareth added.
"And not to talk basketball, just to talk about life. It would be awesome."
The pair has been attending All-Star events all week, including a charity event held by Spur and former Raptor, Matt Bonner. How much did it cost?
"It was the same as a March break trip for four," Alison said, noting it was all worth it.
It's cold here, eh?
Emil Sheth was born in Scarborough, but now resides in the warmer climes of northern California, where he and his friends, Robert, Shital and Bhavna, are all big Golden State Warriors fans.
For Sheth, coming to a NBA All-Star Game was on the "bucket list."
"Who can resist Toronto when it's negative 30?" he said, laughing.
Roland Martin, who was born in Houston but now lives in Washington, said bringing the game to Canada was a clever move by the NBA.
"When you look at just the number of players from around the world, the expansion of the league, it just fits in perfectly," he said, adding it gives people a chance to use their passports.
"I definitely want to come back — when it's warm."