LOS ANGELES (AP) — While Kobe Bryant heals from his latest injury, he has an unusual message for the fans who select the NBA All-Star game's starters: Don't vote for me.
After playing just six games in an injury-plagued season, the Los Angeles Lakers' 15-time All-Star guard is hoping fans elect younger, more deserving players to start next month's showcase in New Orleans.
"Even though there's so much respect that comes from me to be able to play for the fans, I'd much rather see the young guys go out there and play in the game," Bryant said before the Lakers faced Denver on Sunday night. "They've obviously put the work in to be there that weekend, so I'd much rather see them go in there and participate."
Bryant also gave a small update on his recovery from a broken bone near his left knee. He is riding a stationary bike to stay in shape while the bone heals, but must exercise patience with several weeks likely to go.
"I'm pretty restricted in terms of what I can do," Bryant said. "So I'm just staying on the bike, keeping it moving and going, keeping the legs strong." Few players have more experience in the NBA's midseason exhibition showcase than Bryant, who has been chosen for every All-Star game since missing out as a rookie in 1997. Bryant is a four-time All-Star game MVP and the top scorer in the game's history, passing Michael Jordan in 2012.
Although Bryant won't mind at all if fans pass on him this time, that doesn't look likely so far: Bryant was the second-leading vote-getter in the Western Conference in vote totals released by the NBA on Dec. 26 with 723,031 votes, trailing only LeBron James and Kevin Durant in the overall balloting.
"That's obviously a sensitive topic for me personally, because you want to feel like you deserve to be in the game and play," Bryant said. "But then there's the other side of the argument where you've put in a lot of work over the years, and (if) fans vote you in, you want to go out there and show your appreciation and respect to them. I think it's always a delicate balance, but from where I come from, I really enjoy watching what the young guys are doing and how they're performing."
Although he would be honored if he's voted in again, he isn't even sure he'll be ready to play. Bryant only made his season debut Dec. 8, eight months after tearing his Achilles tendon, and he played six games in 10 days before getting hurt again in Memphis, sidelining him until late January at the earliest.
Bryant singled out Portland's Damian Lillard as a player deserving of votes. "I probably won't be able to come back (to the Lakers) soon enough to be able to make my stamp or be able to make my mark on a game," Bryant said. "So my advice would be to focus on younger players, the Damian Lillards of the world, because they're more than deserving to be out there and playing that weekend."
Bryant was the youngest All-Star starter in NBA history during his second season in 1997-98. He was the All-Star game MVP in 2002, 2007, 2009 and 2011 in Los Angeles. Bryant also voiced support for Pau Gasol, who has been linked in trade rumors with Cleveland in recent days. Bryant noted Gasol seemingly has been a subject of weekly rumors since shortly after the Lakers won their second straight championship in 2010.
"It's like if he's not in trade discussions, it's not a normal season," Bryant said of Gasol. "He goes out and just plays. He does a phenomenal job of staying composed, and I'm sure there's a lot of frustration inside of him, but he does a great job of being professional and keeping it in, and going out and playing."
Bryant believes the struggling Lakers still can make a playoff run this season, and he wants Gasol to stay in Los Angeles to help. Bryant also realizes the Lakers probably won't consult him about it. "How much more am I supposed to support a guy, besides making a Pau flag and riding in there on a horse with Spanish-colored paint on my face like I'm the Spaniard William Wallace or something?" Bryant asked. "I don't know what else to do."