Everyone has a favorite Kobe Bryant story. I have a few. His two buzzer beaters in regulation and overtime at Portland on the last day of the regular season. His dominance in the 2000 NBA Finals, game 4, in overtime, after Shaq fouled out and he scored or assisted on every point. His game winning three over Dwyane Wade at Staples Center. This too, his broken nose at the All-Star game in 2012, the same place Bryant won a title three years earlier.
That particularly play stood out for two reasons. For one, the game is supposed to be very non-contact. It’s the unwritten rule. Don’t hurt anyone. There are the playoffs to prepare for. Just get through the first three and a half quarters with an array of dunks, floaters and bombs. Then, for about three minutes play as hard as you can to try to win.
The second sub-plot was the Kobe-Wade dynamic. The top two shooting guards of their era, hands down, with the most All-Star selections at their position, both having played and won titles with Shaquille O’Neal, both teammates in the Olympic summer games, treated the game like it was the playoffs. So when Wade cracked Kobe in the face, it was a little bit of a of course he did that moment. It made perfect sense because as shooting guards go, Kobe and Wade are the biggest competitors.
This is how it happened. The game was going along at a normal All-Star game’s pace with a lot of Kevin Durant dunks and Russell Westbrook shaking the rim poetry and LeBron James monster jams. Then in the third, with 8 minutes left, Kobe got a first step on Wade, blew by him to the rim. Wade reacted. He tried to stop Kobe by fouling him to prevent the layup. Instead, he drilled him in the face, breaking his nose.
Kobe was bleeding and did the Kobe thing. Made free throws, wiped the blood up, left for a quick look, and then continued to play. The West beat the East by three points, 152-149.
It was close at the end when Deron Williams stole a pass to cut the lead to one. LeBron James turned the ball over but had a chance for a last second hero shot to tie the game. Kobe guarded LeBron and dared him to take it, be the hero or take the blame. LeBron wouldn’t take the bait.
Kobe finished the game with 27 points and became the leading scorer in All-Star history (a record LeBron James broke). Wade finished with a triple double, 24 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, and became the third player (other than Michael Jordan and Lebron James) to have a triple double in an All-Star game.
But everyone wanted to talk about the broken nose. Why, Wade?
“He knows it’s no ill will intent of me to do that to him. I never wanted that kind of encounter.”
Wade insisted it was just a basketball play. He apologized to Kobe. The Heat and Lakers were set to play two games after the All-Star game, on a Sunday afternoon.
Bryant was officially diagnosed with a nasal fracture and no concussion. His teammates were a little ticked off about it.
“It was an All-Star game. I don’t understand what that was about.” (Andrew Bynum)
“I think it was out of place, out of line, for the moment and the game but I don’t think he intended to break his nose. He just fouled him kind of hard there and got his nose.” (Pau Gasol)
LeBron James had something to say as well.
“D-Wade didn’t at all go for a hard foul, he accidentaly hit him in the nose.”
Accidentally? On purpose? Does it even matter? It gave the game more meaning than usual as Kobe in a face mask played the Heat in L.A. a week later with Wade being the mercenary/villain for the first time in his career. Kobe was waiting. Face mask and all, 33 points in 38 minutes and the win.