Sunday, 7 August 2011


Even though Kobe Bryant was just 19-years-old at the time, I remember watching the 1998 All-Star Game feeling fairly confident that it was one of those 'passing of the torch' moments. Looking back at it now, that's exactly what it was.

Kobe Bryant was selected as the starting shooting guard for the Western Conference All-Stars. Of course, the opposing two guard was Michael Jordan - his last All-Star appearance as a Chicago Bull. How would the teenager fair against the greatest of all-time?

Last week, I sat down to watch the game on DVD having not seen it for over thirteen years. Looking back at it now, it was truly one of legendary battles in All-Star history.

In 1997-98, Kobe Bryant averaged 15.4ppg for the season compared to Jordan's 28.8ppg. But don't be fooled by Kobe's relatively low output. Only the most pessimistic observer would have doubted Kobe's potential to go on to be a superstar despite his role as a bench player for the Lakers. Indeed, he was one of only a few bench players ever selected to the All-Star Game, biding his time behind Eddie Jones, himself a talented two-way player chosen to be an All-Star that same year.

Despite being the Lakers' 6th man, Kobe proved in the 1998 All-Star Game that he belonged. He finished the game with 18 points on 6-for-17 shooting including 2-for-3 from long range, all the more impressive when you consider he played just 22 minutes.

At one point, Kobe caused a stir with a memorable behind-the-back-dribble layup that left even ball-handling maestro Isiah Thomas (who was offering colour commentary) in awe. (Please excuse the poor quality video - I know HDTV wasn't invented yet, but come on, 1998 wasn't that long ago).

One year removed from his success in the 1997 dunk contest, Kobe reminded us in the 1998 All-Star Game that he was one of the highest flyers in the entire league, as shown in this clip with Kobe finishing the alley-oop off Kevin Garnett's pass.

And yet, despite Kobe's highlights, he was completely outplayed by Michael Jordan when the two players were on the court at the same time.

Jordan finished with 23 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists and an MVP trophy. He schooled the young pretender with a variety of moves including his patented fade-away jump shot (which, by 1998, he had mastered like no other player before or since) and Kevin McHale-inspired post moves.

Watching the two players go head-to-head was like watching Darth Vader toy with a young Luke Skywalker. The only difference, of course, was that, unlike Darth Vader, Jordan emerged victorious*.

However, despite Jordan outplaying Kobe, it's unfair to draw too many conclusions from the 1998 All-Star Game. Did it prove that Jordan was better than Kobe? Well, yes, certainly at the time. But Kobe was about 10 years away from reaching his peak. Did he ever reach a peak as high as Jordan's? In this writer's opinion, no.

What isn't up for debate, however, is that both players gave it their all in the 1998 All-Star Game. Such games are usually devoid of defense, but that wasn't the case when Kobe and Jordan went head-to-head. Neither player wanted to be embarrassed. Jordan wanted to retain his title as the greatest of all-time, and Kobe wanted to snatch it from him. Given the stages they were at in their respective careers, both players came out smelling of roses. Kobe proved he belonged. Jordan proved he was still the greatest.

*This will be the first and last time I use a Star Wars analogy. I don't even like the film.

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