Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard is the first recipient of the Kia National Basketball Association's All-Star Game Kobe Bryant Most Valuable Player award, which the league officially named after the late Bryant.
Leonard scored a game-high 30 points and seven rebounds to help Team LeBron — led by Lakers star LeBron James — beat Team Giannis (named after Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo), 157-155, in the 69th NBA All-Star Game in Chicago, which hosted the event for the first time in 32 years.
At his media press conference before All-Star events on Saturday night, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced the award is permanently named after Bryant, who was killed along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others in a Jan. 26 helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.
According to multiple reports, a private funeral service was held for Bryant and his daughter earlier this month. On Feb. 24, a public service to celebrate the life of the Bryants will take place at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The date matches with the No. 2 jersey worn by Gianna, and Kobe's longtime No. 24 jersey.
Silver said the decision was made to name the MVP award after Bryant following league discussions with "particular players," including Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul, who assisted with devising the idea.
"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."
Sunday's All-Star game commenced with words from Hall of Famer Magic Johnson, who requested an 8-second moment of silence for Bryant, who started his 20-year career with the Lakers wearing the No. 8 jersey.
Bryant played in a record 18 consecutive All-Star games, the second-most appearances behind Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who made 19 appearances.
Bryant is also tied with Hall of Famer Bob Pettit for the most All-Star MVPs (four), and at age 19, he became the youngest player to participate in the game in 1998.
During All-Star festivities, Hall of Fame officials also announced Bryant, along with seven others including former San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan and former Brooklyn Net Kevin Garnett, are finalists for induction into the 2020 Hall of Fame class, which will be revealed during the NCAA Final Four in Atlanta.