NEW ORLEANS (AP) Kobe Bryant acknowledges the best days of his brilliant career might be in the past. He still wants to play in another NBA All-Star game, though.
The 16-time All-Star made that much clear while sitting out Sunday's 2014 edition with nagging pain and swelling in his left knee, stemming from a broken leg. He said he would even be interested in entering a future 3-point contest.
Playing in an All-Star game "means you're one of the best players in the world," Bryant said shortly before Sunday night's game, which he watched from the bench in a tan suit. "It's obviously a goal of mine."
The Los Angeles Lakers star is trying not to delude himself about how much longer he can play at the level to which he's been accustomed. He has played in only six games this season, fracturing his tibia shortly after his return from an Achilles tendon injury.
Asked if he was concerned his body might be starting to give out, he responded, "Of course. Absolutely."
"That's part of the excitement of the challenge, that level of uncertainty: Is this it? ... Are my best days behind me?" Bryant said. "To have those conversations with yourself and not be intimidated by that and ... not succumbing to that is part of the challenge."
As for the Lakers, who are 18-35 and virtually out of playoff contention, Bryant sees a chance for a quick turnaround.
"What we have coming up this offseason with the cap space, and what we have ahead of ourselves seems to be right in the Lakers' wheelhouse, in terms of turning things around pretty quickly," Bryant said. "We've had summers like this, and they have never really faltered. They have normally made really sound and excellent decisions that put us right back in contention."
DUNKS GALORE: For those fans who felt confused or letdown by a revamped slam dunk contest, the new rules for which were widely criticized on social media, they could always look forward to the All-Star game itself, dunk fest that it so often is.
There were a total of 37 dunks in the 48-minute All-Star game Sunday night. Most of them were provided by Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin, who had eight in the first quarter alone and finished with 11. Many came on alley-oop lobs and most of them were slammed down hard, drawing oohs and aahs from the crowd. Griffin finished with 38 points, four short of tying the All-Star game record.
Not surprisingly, he had a pretty high shooting percentage, going 19 of 23 from the field (82.6 percent).
"Man, Blake was unreal," said Clippers teammate Chris Paul, who at one point set up consecutive alley-oop dunks. "If we win the game right there I think Blake is MVP."
LeBron James had some spectacular dunks of his own, finishing with six, an almost pedestrian total when compared to Griffin's night.
Griffin said he enjoyed all the dunking and wasn't the slightest bit concerned that it left an impression with the public that he's a one-trick pony.
"It's fun, man. This game is for the fans, and to be able to do things they want to see," Griffin said. "They don't really want to see me shooting jump shots, so it's cool to be able to get up and down and have fun with it."
THE OTHER STARS: There were plenty of stars who don't play pro basketball — at least not anymore — making a red carpet entrance at the All-Star game, or performing on a stage set up behind one baseline.
Those on the red carpet included actors Kevin Hart, Michael B. Jordan, Gabrielle Union and Jesse Williams; model Erin Heatherton; musicians Nelly and Ludacris; film director Spike Lee; TV personality La La Anthony; and former NBA stars Darryl Dawkins, Dominique Wilkins, Karl Malone and Penny Hardaway.
Musical performers during pregame and halftime included: Pharrell, Busta Rhymes, Nelly, Snoop Dogg, Janelle Monae, Dr. John, Aloe Blacc, Jason Derulo, Mack Wilds and Trombone Shorty. Pharrell was the main act during pregame ceremonies, while the headliner of the halftime show was Trombone Shorty, a New Orleans native. Dr. John, also from New Orleans, added to the local flavor.
SHORT SLEEVES: In addition to a crop of young stars such as Damian Lillard and Anthony Davis, the All-Star game had a new look in other ways. Namely, the short-sleeve jerseys that replaced the usual tank tops.
The jerseys did not have numbers on the front, emblazoned instead with fleur-de-lis to represent New Orleans and with a "W'' for the Western Conference or "E'' for the Eastern Conference. The West wore red with blue and white trim, while the East wore blue with green and white trim.
The NBA has been trying to promote short-sleeve jerseys, hoping they'll provide a boost to merchandizing by giving fans an alternative to tank tops. Several teams have short-sleeve versions of jerseys they've worn in regular-season games.