NBA renames All-Star MVP award to honor Kobe Bryant, because 'nobody embodied All-Star more than Kobe'

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver unveiled the Kobe Bryant MVP Award at a press conference during NBA All-Star Saturday Night at United Center. (Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)
NBA commissioner Adam Silver unveiled the Kobe Bryant MVP Award at a press conference during NBA All-Star Saturday Night at United Center. (Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

CHICAGO — The NBA has renamed its All-Star Game MVP trophy after Kobe Bryant in the wake of Bryant’s tragic death last month.

Commissioner Adam Silver announced Saturday that the award would now be known as the Kobe Bryant All-Star Game MVP Award. Silver unveiled the newly-minted trophy at his annual All-Star weekend news conference in Chicago.

Bryant made 18 consecutive All-Star Games from 1998 to 2016, and won the game’s MVP four times – in 2002, 2007, 2009 and 2011.

The award he won on those four occasions will now forever be associated with him.

Why the NBA chose to rename the award after Bryant

Kobe Bryant at his final NBA All-Star Game. (George Pimentel/Getty Images)
Kobe Bryant at his final NBA All-Star Game. (George Pimentel/Getty Images)

Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26 sent the NBA and the basketball world into a very public and fast-paced grieving process. The league had to mourn – the loss, Silver said, “is unspeakable.” It also had to celebrate and honor Bryant’s life.

Less than a week after the crash, the NBA announced its first major league-wide tribute, a reformatted 2020 All-Star game, plus All-Star jersey number changes for all players to 24 (for Bryant) and 2 (for his daughter Gianna). Silver said Saturday that players “embraced” the changes.

But the league knew that wasn’t sufficient. “So we were thinking,” Silver explained, “What is something special we could do at All-Star that had more permanence than changing the numbers on the jerseys?”

There were discussions within the league office. There were discussions with players, Silver said. They realized they had “this trophy that, while it has existed for a long time, it never had that particular player association, for example, in the way the Finals MVP is the Bill Russell trophy. To all of us, it seemed like the appropriate way to bring honor to him.”

“I'm sure there will be other honors as well,” Silver said. “And as I mentioned, there are other things that we will be discussing with our board, the NBA board, when they meet in April to honor [former commissioner] David [Stern]. But this one seems so appropriate here at All-Star because nobody embodied All-Star more than Kobe Bryant.”

When Adam Silver found out about the crash

Silver spoke for the first time on Saturday about when he first heard about the crash involving Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven other individuals. “To the best of my recollection, the first I heard that the helicopter had gone down and that it likely included Kobe and Gianna was from Mike Bass, the head of NBA communications, who had just learned from a member of the Laker organization,” Silver said. “This was not long after it happened. It certainly wasn't public yet. Frankly, Mike is sitting here in the front row, I don't mind saying Mike had trouble getting the words out on the phone. He was choked up in telling me.

“At that moment, we have a process for dealing with situations like this at the League Office that involves a group, as you might imagine, people in our senior management, together with our security group, trying to assess situations to try to get the best information. So we, in essence, through the head of our security named Jerome Pickett, this process, where we all came together for a conference call, working with the Lakers to get the best information we could.”

Silver would go to explain that the league decided not to cancel games that Sunday because there was no official confirmation that Kobe and Gianna had lost their lives and fans were already starting to assemble at NBA arenas across the country.

“We were in touch with the family indirectly, and I think also, certainly in that moment, they were not prepared to acknowledge something that had not clearly happened,” Silver added. “So we did speak to all of our teams - Mark Tatum, the deputy commissioner, Byron Spruell, Rick Buchanan, others, Kathy Behrens. We then talked to those teams and dividing up those teams and telling them we understood that, if there were particular players who felt they were just not up to playing that night, that certainly that was beyond okay and that also, with all apologies to the media, that if players did not feel up to meeting their usual media obligations, we understood that as well.”

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