CHICAGO — Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul has fond memories of playing in NBA All-Star games with Kobe Bryant.
“We didn’t really lose when we were together,” Paul told USA TODAY Sports.
Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among nine killed in a helicopter accident Jan. 26, leaving the basketball community and sports world mourning for the past two weeks. Bryant will be remembered throughout All-Star weekend in Chicago.
Paul was a regular teammate of Bryant on Western Conference All-Star teams and won two Olympic gold medals (2008 and 2012) with Bryant.
“It’s crazy. It’s not real until somebody asks me about it,” said Paul, who considered Bryant a close friend, rival and mentor since entering the league in 2005. “I just stay busy. Try not to think about it, keep going. Yeah, it’s not that real that he’s gone. I just keep on moving.”
Paul is returning to his first All-Star weekend since 2016 — Bryant’s final season and last All-Star appearance — and said he remembers he and Bryant being similar in that they didn’t treat the exhibition game as a vacation from the regular season.
“We were out there to compete. We just approached the game differently,” said Paul, who was helping launch Players Media Group, a sports start-up media entertainment company, on Friday downtown. “I don’t go out there to just play around. I can’t do that. He couldn’t either. Serious competitors.”
Paul, who has played for his entire career in the Western Conference — on New Orleans, the Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets and now the Thunder — teamed up with Bryant seven times from 2008-2016. Outside of two All-Star games when Bryant was injured in New Orleans (2014) and Dallas (2010) when both were injured, the duo went 6-1, with Paul’s alley-oops to Bryant making highlight reels each time. Paul’s lone loss with Bryant came in 2008 — their first time on an All-Star roster together.
“We lost one game when we played together,” Paul said. “That’s it.”
Bryant was complimentary of Paul throughout his career. In a 2016 interview about a 2011 trade that was blocked by the NBA that would have sent Paul to team with Bryant on the Lakers, Bryant said: “Things would’ve been very, very, very different around here …with two of the most competitive people the league has ever seen.”
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