AP Basketball Writer
TORONTO — Of all the goodies Kobe Bryant collects in his farewell season, one this weekend might be particularly useful.
After all, you need a good winter coat in Canada. Though Bryant probably wouldn’t be too unhappy walking away with another All-Star Game MVP trophy.
The final NBA showcase for Bryant and the first to be staged outside the U.S. is in Toronto, the city that staged the first NBA game 70 years ago and is so enthusiastic for basketball now that it could no longer be ignored no matter what the thermometer says.
“I think it’s going to be bonkers,” former Raptors superstar Vince Carter said.
“I think it’s overdue. It’s a great city. I think they’ll be a great host and I think guys are going to have a lot of fun. It’s going to be cold.”
A relatively mild winter by Canada’s standards will be nothing but a warm memory this weekend, when Saturday’s forecast is for temperatures near zero degrees and far below it with the wind chill. The players can cover up with the parkas Canada Goose, maker of cold weather outerwear, designed for them.
The NBA long sought warm-weather locations for its winter road trip, and cities that had a good chance for a white Christmas generally had little hope of getting All-Star weekend.
But Toronto, where the Toronto Huskies and New York Knicks played on Nov. 1, 1946, in Maple Leaf Gardens and is so passionate about its Raptors that general manager Masai Ujiri was fined a couple years ago for using an expletive about playoff opponent Brooklyn — with Commissioner Adam Silver in attendance — is “an ideal host,” Silver said.
“There is a special energy and excitement around All-Star this year, and we’re looking forward to four days of great events that honor our marquee players and legends, celebrate the game, and provide loads of excitement for our fans,” Silver said.
If Bryant heats up, he could add a fifth All-Star Game MVP award to his collection.
The events kick off Friday, the slam dunk and 3-point contests are Saturday and the game is Sunday night.
Some things to watch this weekend:
BRYANT’S BEST? Bryant is a four-time MVP of the All-Star Game and its career scoring leader — though now just two points ahead of LeBron James. Does the 18-time All-Star’s aching body have enough left at 37 for one more vintage performance? “Knowing Kobe as well as I do, I’m sure if he gets going, and the guys get him going, you know the crowd’s going to want it to happen; certain players are going to want it to happen,” former teammate Shaquille O’Neal said in remarks provided by TNT. “If he can find his stroke and get it going a little bit, I can guarantee you he’s going to go for the MVP. It’s his last one? Why not go out with a bang?”
THEY’VE GOT SKILLS: The NBA announced the bracket Thursday for Saturday’s Skills Challenge, the event that combines dribbling, passing and shooting and this year features a number of big men in a field that traditionally is for guards. A big guy is guaranteed to reach the final. All-Stars Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins meet in the first round, with the winner to face All-Star Draymond Green or rookie Karl-Anthony Towns in the semifinals. The little guys are on the other side: Denver’s Emmanuel Mudiay vs. All-Star Isaiah Thomas, and the Lakers’ Jordan Clarkson against Portland’s CJ McCollum.
GOOD GAME? The early part of the All-Star Game is always about showing off sneakers and dunks, but count on it becoming competitive down the stretch. The last six games have been determined by an average of 4.7 points. “We’ve been actually fortunate in recent years. Despite the highlight-type schoolyard play early on we’ve had some good games down the stretch and obviously that’s what we hope for,” said Marv Albert, who will call the game on TNT.
NO VINSANITY: Carter, now playing for Memphis, is the Raptors’ career leader with 23.4 points per game and a former slam dunk champion. But he won’t be in the city he called the NBA’s “best-kept secret,” instead spending his break watching his daughter play in a tennis tournament. “It’s just bad timing because I know it’s going to be epic and I would love to be there,” he said. “It’s just daddy duties first.”
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