Kobe, Stern honored as All-Star festivities begin

CHICAGO — The stars among stars were out in 10-degree weather Friday night to celebrate Chicago’s first NBA All-Star Weekend in three decades.

And the league didn’t miss an opportunity to honor two legendary figures in the process.

Ahead of the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game tipoff, ESPN commentators Stephen A. Smith and Michael Wilbon — a native of Chicago — delivered emotional speeches, and 24.2 seconds of silence was held to honor the passing of NBA legend Kobe Bryant and former commissioner David Stern.

“Two men who forever changed the NBA and the great game of basketball globally in ways only legends could,” Wilbon said.

“So let’s take these next few moments to celebrate and show gratitude for their contributions to this game we all love,” Smith added.

“They will forever be missed, but certainly never forgotten,” Wilbon said. “Thank you, David and Kobe.”

Chants of “Kobe, Kobe, Kobe” then showered the arena as the clock counted down.

Rapper Quavo also wore a white T-shirt representing Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy during pregame warm-ups instead of the traditional team gear.

Rapper Common was named MVP of the game in front of his hometown fans after leading Team Wilbon over Team Stephen A. 62-47.

Common said he drew inspiration from Bryant’s death, and shared a personal memory of speaking with Bryant and his wife, Vanessa, at the Oscars in 2018, when Bryant’s “Dear Basketball” won for Best Animated Short Film. He shared another interaction during a previous All-Star Weekend when Bryant introduced him to his entire family, including daughter Gianna, who also died in the Jan. 26 helicopter crash, and said he continues to “pray for them.”

“I come from a tradition where people honor their ancestors, and Kobe, at this point, is in some ways an ancestor, and that energy is still with us and we honor that,” Common said. “We honor what he contributed in his 41 years of life on this earth, what he gave to us by showing how great of a basketball player and how determined and focused he was. That’s how we can inspire others in many ways. We can change the world just by being within our own greatness and he did that, so I feel like we’re getting to honor him. This All-Star Game means a lot, lot more because we’re honoring Kobe Bryant.”

In addition to Bryant, Common used the moment to celebrate late Chicago prep hoops legend Ben Wilson, who was killed at age 17 on Nov. 21, 1984, during lunch hour near Simeon High School. In 2012, Common made an appearance in an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary titled “Benji” that introduced Wilson’s story to a new generation of Chicago ballers.

“I wore No. 25 for Ben Wilson. Benji, that was one of my greatest heroes growing up before I knew Michael Jordan all the way; before Mike, it was Benji,” Common said. “He was from my home so we love him.

“Respect to his family, I got to meet some of his family, and it’s been a process and a journey of forgiveness and reconciliation with what they’re doing with the brother who actually murdered Ben Wilson named Billy Moore,” he continued. “The family has come together, and they’ve been working on forgiveness. It’s a powerful thing so I feel like our city got a lot of hope and we’ve got to remember that. We’ve got to keep that hope in our energy and the way we treat each other and the way we think about ourselves. I don’t want to get to preaching but I just care so much about us.”

Bryant and Stern also were remembered ahead of the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night, with Sue Bird and Pau Gasol addressing the United Center crowd and giving a brief speech about the duo. Gasol, who was teammates with Bryant, said Bryant’s and Stern’s deaths left him “heartbroken.”

Bird added, “Like their impact on the court and the game, they’ll never be forgotten.”

Tributes to Bryant can be found throughout the weekend, including on the back of all media credentials, where photos of Bryant and Stern are stamped.

The All-Star uniforms feature patches displaying nine stars, to represent every victim who died during the helicopter crash that claimed the lives of Kobe and Gianna Bryant. All members of Team LeBron and Team Giannis will wear No. 2 and No. 24, respectively, during Sunday’s All-Star Game for Kobe’s and Gianna’s jersey numbers.

Bryant was also officially named a finalist for the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame Class of 2020 on Friday in Chicago.

ESPN’s Malika Andrews contributed to this report.

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