Kobe Bryant’s absence felt among players, fans at NBA All-Star Weekend: ‘We know that he’s watching over us’

It has been three weeks since the helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, that took the lives of Kobe Bryant, his 12-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others, but the emotions among players and fans are still raw.

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The late Kobe Bryant will be honored in numerous ways at NBA All-Star Weekend in Chicago.

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It has been three weeks since the helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, that took the lives of Kobe Bryant, his 12-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others, but the emotions among players and fans are still raw.

“We know that he’s watching over us,” Lakers star LeBron James said Saturday. “I don’t really want to sit up here and talk about it too much. It’s a very sensitive subject, but he’s with us every day.”

“It’s a very tough subject for me to continue to talk about,” said Dwight Howard, who played with Bryant during the 2012-13 season. “It’s something that still hurts today. I think about it every day. And I would just tell people, while you’re here on this earth, enjoy everybody, enjoy every single moment that you have and be gracious, be gracious because you never know when it could be your last. And I really wish I would’ve had a chance to tell him how grateful I was [for his friendship].”

Many players in the league looked up to Bryant when they were younger and tried to incorporate his game into their own.

“Growing up, he was my idol — not just my idol but probably the whole generation’s,” Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “[Kobe] was the Michael Jordan of our generation.”

The NBA will honor Bryant, a 2020 finalist for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, throughout the weekend.

Team Antetokounmpo will wear No. 24 in honor of Bryant, while LeBron’s team will wear No. 2 in honor of Gianna in the All-Star Game on Sunday. Along with the jersey numbers, both teams also will wear patches with nine stars to represent the nine crash victims.

Commissioner Adam Silver also announced Saturday that the All-Star Game MVP award has been permanently named after Bryant, who won a record-tying four All-Star Game MVP awards.

“Kobe Bryant is synonymous with NBA All-Star and embodies the spirit of this global celebration of our game,” Silver said. “He always relished the opportunity to compete with the best of the best and perform at the highest level for millions of fans around the world.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced Saturday that the All-Star Game MVP award was renamed to honor Kobe Bryant.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced Saturday that the All-Star Game MVP award was renamed to honor Kobe Bryant.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Bryant’s legacy continued even after his retirement in 2016. He encouraged elite athletes to embrace his relentless “Mamba mentality” and handed out unique challenges. For Antetokounmpo, his 2017 challenge was to win an MVP. After he did that in 2019, Bryant challenged the Greek Freak to win a championship.

“Whenever I needed something,’’ Antetokounmpo said, ‘‘I could just reach out to him, and he was really always there. If I needed something, he would text me back [or] call me. He was one of those guys that gave back to the game so much, gave back to the players. A lot of people, when they’re so great, they don’t do that. He’ll definitely be missed.”

Dinwiddie knocks Bulls

Point guard Spencer Dinwiddie could’ve been a Bull. Instead, the team cut him after five preseason games in 2016 and sent him to the Development League (now the G League), where the Nets picked him up two months later.

Did the Bulls make a mistake?

“I mean, I’m a 20-point-a-game scorer in the NBA, and the only other 20-point-a-game scorer they got don’t play my position,” said Dinwiddie, who participated in Saturday’s All-Star skills competition. “So Zach [LaVine], I would’ve loved to play with you.”

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