Russell Westbrook took a little bit of the focus away from West teammate and retiring great Kobe Bryant’s final NBA All-Star Game appearance when the Oklahoma City point guard claimed MVP honours for a second straight year on Sunday.
The 27-year-old Westbrook scored 31 points in the West’s 196-173 victory to become the first player to win solo back-to-back most valuable player awards in the 65-season history of the high-profile showcase event.
Bob Pettit was named MVP for the 1958 game and shared the honour with Elgin Baylor in 1959.
There was speculation that Bryant would be named MVP for sentimental reasons and East team leader Paul George made a case for himself with 41 points but Westbrook nailed a bunch of key three-pointers in the second half to lead the West to victory.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen, man,” the shocked Thunder guard told reporters.
“I was just sitting there and kind of talking and enjoying, and my name got called.
“Any time you can be in the history books, it always means something. I’m just thankful to be able to play the game of basketball and be in a game like this is something that I never take for granted.”
BONDING WITH BRYANT
Westbrook, who scored 41 points to win MVP honours last year with a tally one point shy of Wilt Chamberlain’s All-Star Game record in 1962, admitted that it was special to play in Bryant’s final appearance.
He also enjoyed being around the Los Angeles Lakers guard all weekend.
“I think everybody in the whole arena, whole room, definitely aspired to see Kobe Bryant in his last game,” Westbrook added. “It’s just an honour and blessing to be able to be a part of it and kind of see him on his way out.
“Being able to talk to him and get knowledge and just hear him talking about different things he’s done for himself, for the game, his family. It’s a great moment to be able to sit back and just chat with a guy like that.
“You embrace all those moments.”
For George, his performance also served notice that he has fully recovered from the compound fracture he suffered in his right leg during the American training camp for the 2014 FIBA World Cup 18 months ago.
His nine three-pointers was an All-Star Game record.
“It’s really special,” the Indiana Pacers forward said. “I had a hard-fought summer, hard-fought rehab year. It was just a very upward climb.
“It took every day and really every moment of rehab to get through it. There were a lot of days where I felt I like I was down and out, but I just stayed with it.”