Kobe Bryant, in His Final Lap, Is Happy to Surrender the Midseason Stage

Kobe Bryant practicing before the All-Star Game in Toronto. Bryant has been welcomed by fans wherever he goes during his final season in the N.B.A.

TORONTO — Before the N.B.A. All-Star Game on Sunday night, Stephen Curry told Kobe Bryant that he planned to accumulate a ton of assists by feeding the ball to Bryant as often as possible. Bryant, on the cusp of retirement with the Los Angeles Lakers, essentially advised Curry to pump the brakes.

“You’re going to pass the ball at the All-Star Game?” Bryant recalled telling Curry, the ascendant star of the Golden State Warriors. “Are you crazy?”

Bryant, 37, still delights in the public’s adoration — witness his broad smile whenever he waded into crowds here over the weekend. But before Sunday’s game at Air Canada Centre, with Bryant set to add to a season full of final occasions, he seemed aware that the spotlight would find him regardless of what he was capable of doing on the court — which, this season, has been far less than it once was.

Sure enough, with younger players buzzing around the rim, Bryant remained earthbound throughout the West’s 196-173 victory over the East at Air Canada Centre. He still found himself at the center of the circus. The game was preceded by two video montages celebrating his career.

“You get a chance to enjoy it a little bit after having 19 years where you’re just completely, completely focused and immersed in competition,” said Bryant, an All-Star selection for the 18th and final time. “To have one year where you relax and soak it in feels good.”

His performance was muted in a glorified scrimmage, finishing with 10 points and 7 assists before he left late in the fourth quarter to a standing ovation.

Hindered by age and injury, Bryant ceded the stage to younger stars like the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook, who had 31 points and was named the game’s most valuable player for the second straight season, and the Indiana Pacers’ Paul George, who had a game-high 41 points.

The entire weekend doubled as an opportunity for nearly everyone associated with the game to pay respects to Bryant, one of the league’s most transcendent scorers.

Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans recalled how Bryant had mentored him when they were teammates at the 2012 Olympics. The Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony, who had 13 points and 6 rebounds in his ninth All-Star Game, said that he had always looked up to Bryant.

“I think he really changed my perspective on the game,, and how to approach the game,” Anthony said.

Bryant has altered his own approach. He is laboring through his final season with the Lakers, averaging 16.9 points and 4.2 rebounds while shooting a career-worst 34.9 percent. The Lakers limped into the All-Star break with an 11-44 record and are last in the Western Conference.

At the same time, Bryant has relished his farewell tour amid the otherwise all-consuming misery of another lost season for the Lakers. Fans have celebrated him wherever he has gone, in addition to voting him into the All-Star Game, and Toronto has some significance to Bryant. In 2006, he scored a career-best 81 points in a victory over the visiting Raptors.


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“How about that?” Bryant said. “I think sometimes the sports gods have a great sense of humor. These things just happen the way they do.”

It was the first time that the All-Star Game was held outside the United States, and that meant something to Bryant, too. He has long been one of the league’s global stars, his reach extending to Europe and Asia. Bryant, who spent much of his childhood in Italy and speaks multiple languages, recognized the game’s international growth early.

As Commissioner Adam Silver said, “In addition to being a great player, he’s punched way above his weight in terms of the impact he’s had on the global expansion of the N.B.A.”

For Sunday’s game, the league distributed credentials to 336 members of the news media from 40 countries and territories — some of whom presented Bryant with gifts at a news conference at the start of the weekend. It was a curious scene. A bottle of a Canadian soda and framed artwork of Bryant as a sword-wielding samurai found their way to his dais.

No less an eminence than Michael Jordan carved out time to celebrate Bryant’s final All-Star appearance by giving him a full set of Air Jordan sneakers.

“I told him, ‘You have no idea how much I worked to try to find a pair of these shoes when I was in high school,’ ” Bryant said. “Now I have the whole collection. It’s pretty sweet.”

The larger reward for Bryant this season has come in the form of leaving the game on his terms — a popular conceit among stars who tiptoe toward retirement. The Lakers have struggled to rebuild in recent seasons, hindered in part by the $48.5 million contract extension that Bryant signed in 2013.

Limited to six games during the 2013-14 season and to 35 last season, Bryant announced in November that he would retire after this one.

Over the weekend here, familiar figures from Bryant’s past kept appearing. On Friday, Shaquille O’Neal, his former teammate with the Lakers, and Allen Iverson, a fellow lottery pick from the 1996 draft, were both named finalists for induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Bryant and O’Neal have apparently put their well-chronicled feud behind them — “We’re extremely friendly with each other,” Bryant said — and Iverson influenced the trajectory of Bryant’s career. Bryant recalled a regular-season game in 1999 in which Iverson scored 41 points for the 76ers in a win over the Lakers.

“That was the big turning point for me,” Bryant said Saturday, adding: “I just stewed on it for the rest of my career, and he pushed me to get to that level. I told him last night, ‘Bro, you don’t realize how much you did for me.’ And I don’t think people remember how cold he was.”

Bryant spent much of his career operating with the same competitive fire, but the embers have cooled in recent months. He said he had come to accept his limitations.

Before Sunday’s game, Bryant said that he had no designs on dominating the ball. He was true to his word.

“I’ve had four M.V.P.s here,” Bryant said. “I mean, these experiences don’t come around that often for the young guys. It’s important for them to take advantage of the moment while it’s here, and I’m here to help them.”

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