Was that an All-Star Game or a Kobe Bryant tribute show? It was hard to tell at times given the amount of attention the future Hall of Famer garnered during this past weekend's festivities in Toronto.
Bryant hasn't put up All-Star caliber numbers this year, but the fans voted him in as a starter for his 18th All-Star appearance in what is expected to be the final season of his career. Call it a lifetime achievement award en route to the tail end of his retirement tour.
The attention on Kobe wasn't merely media driven hype, as his fellow players went out of their way to acknowledge him during the game. One of those players was Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas, who made his first All-Star appearance the same night that the player he grew up idolizing made his last.
Being able to participate in Bryant's final All-Star game was a humbling experience, as Thomas explained to reporters after the game, per Celtics.com.
"He's the greatest player of my generation," said Thomas. "Somebody that I've looked up to, and we probably won't see another Kobe Bryant ever again, so it's such an honor to be able to share the court with him."
Once the obligatory fawning over Kobe was out of the way, Thomas did express his excitement over playing in his first All-Star Game. While he admits that he would have liked to have made a bigger impact in the game, Thomas says he was having fun out there, which is really what this glorified exhibition game is all about.
The Celtics guard scored 9 points on 4 of 11 shooting, including a three pointer that he drained after picking off an errant pass from Chris Paul near the end of the third quarter. Thomas scored his first bucket of the game back in the first frame by driving past CP3, picking up right where he left off when the Celtics beat the Clippers heading into the break.
Regardless of how he performed or the fact that the Eastern Conference squad was blown out in a historically high-scoring affair, Thomas still describes the experience as everything he ever dreamed of. The final pick of the 2011 NBA Draft has been an underdog his entire career. While the spotlight may have been on Bryant, the game may have been even more meaningful for Thomas given that his path to the All-Star Game was littered with doubters claiming he'd never make it to that level.
"For me and my family to go through this weekend was great," says Thomas. "Hopefully I can have more weekends like this."
As a key cog on a young Celtics team on the rise, Thomas should get more chances down the line to shine with the game's brightest stars.
As honored as Thomas was to share the court with Bryant in his final All-Star appearance, Celtics fans consider it an honor to have Thomas represent their team and the city of Boston.