An All-Star Tournament
Kobe and the After-School All-Stars get their game on.
It was a day to remember, a day in which the Los Angeles Lakers practice facility, the Toyota Sports Center, transformed from a state-of-the-art basketball complex into a makeshift arcade. And you will never guess who the mastermind behind the aesthetic change was…
For all intents and purposes, Bryant runs the City of Angels, and thus, can do just about whatever he pleases, without many repercussions. No one is going to argue the motives of the Black Mamba. His reasons, however, for the dramatic makeover were genuine, extremely admirable.
Bryant helped launch NBA 2K10 on Tuesday by holding a video game tournament with the proceeds from the event being donated to a charity he holds very close to his heart, the After-School All-Stars, a Los Angeles-based program designed to keep inner-city youths off the streets.
“It’s all about giving back to the community,‘’ said Bryant, who graces the cover of NBA 2K10. “When I got together with the people over at 2K Sports and talked about this idea, I told them that I wanted some of my kids from After-School All-Stars to be a part of everything.‘’
Two lucky students from Griffith Middle School paired up with Bryant’s teammates, Sasha Vujacic and Derek Fisher, and two other fortunate scholars from the East Los Angeles area played alongside the Clippers Eric Gordon and Chris Kaman in a round-robin video game tournament.
“Seeing the looks on the kids faces while we were playing was great,’’ Kaman said. “All I can say is that I’m happy my partner didn’t want to be the Lakers. Can‘t play with the Lakers. It‘s just not an option for me.’’
Ultimately, Vujacic and Christopher Castillo, 13, prevailed. The tandem used the World Champion Lakers to win the tournament title, defeating the Boston Celtics, controlled by Gordon and Jason Gonzalez, 12.
Truth be told, Bryant was a bit biased while watching all the action unfold.
At one point, he offered the wide-eyed Castillo some spirited words of encouragement.
And when Vujacic scored what proved to be the game-winner, using Bryant’s character, Kobe began pumping his right fist in the air, making sure Gordon remembered who the team to beat in Los Angeles is, regardless if it’s on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3.
“What can I say, it’s the competitive juices. They always come out. It’s inevitable,’’ Bryant said. “It’s all love though. It’s all love.
“Honestly, I’ve played more video games in the last two months than I have in a long, long time. I never switch either, I’m always the Lakers, no doubt, no doubt. I just can’t hang with any other team. It’s a ritual. I’m a Laker for life.’’
In between the all festivities, Bryant’s buddies, Ron Artest, Jordan Farmar and Josh Powell walked in and out of the Toyota Sports Center with looks of bewilderment on their faces, each wondering what happened to their practice facility.
Everyone departed the premises happy, though, especially after receiving a copy of NBA 2K10, free of charge, of course. Apparently, compromising the integrity of the workplace proved to be beneficial this time around.
Wonder if Lakers coach Phil Jackson approves?
“Things do look different around here today,’’ Fisher said. “Bottom line is, life is so much bigger than us, bigger than the game of basketball. Being involved with Kobe, the After-School All-Stars, a cause like this, it’s important. This is a positive.
“When I was approached about this event it was a no-brainer for me. Getting the chance, the opportunity to connect with people in the community is great. I don’t think the kids knew what to expect. Either did we. In the end, we’re all winners.’’
Indeed, everyone was a winner.
The kids from After-School All-Stars got to hang out with their idols for an afternoon, a dream come true for most.
Vujacic and Fisher forgot about practice for a day, and when all was said and done, got a sneak peek at NBA 2K10.
Finally, Bryant and 2K Sports raised $25,000, money that will be put to good use by some of Los Angeles’ underprivileged youngsters.
“I’m a big supporter of the After-School All-Stars,’’ Bryant said. “I believe in the program 100 percent. It enables these kids a chance to find something that they love to do. And when you find something you love to do, you go after it.
“It’s important for everyone to see that we, NBA players, are human, just like them. With a little hard work and perseverance, I’ve achieved plenty, made it to where I am today. Achieving your goals it something that anyone can do.
“When I retire and look back, I think I’ll be able to say that I had a successful basketball career and won some championships. But it‘s not always what you do on the court. It’s what you do off the court too. What you do to help others.’’
And help he has. Bryant helped tremendously.