Kawhi Leonard was honored with the first-ever Kobe Bryant MVP Award.
The Los Angeles Clippers star, 28, helped lead Team LeBron James to victory against Team Giannis Antetokounmpo during Sunday’s 2020 NBA All-Star Game, which capped off the league’s All-Star weekend.
“Means a lot to me, words can’t even explain,” Leonard said of receiving the top honor renamed after Bryant. “I want to thank Kobe for everything he’d done for me, all the long talks and workouts. Thank you, this one is for him.”
The athlete later added, “Towards later on in my career, I started to talk to him a lot. Got some advice from him … Kobe’s name is on it, it’s the first one. Means a lot to me.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced on Saturday that the coveted award would permanently be renamed for the late NBA legend, who died alongside his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other people in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26.
“Kobe Bryant is synonymous with NBA All-Star and embodies the spirit of this global celebration of our game,” Silver said in a press release. “He always relished the opportunity to compete with the best of the best and perform at the highest level for millions of fans around the world.”
The winner of the Kobe Bryant MVP was determined by NBA fans — who represented 25 percent of the vote — as well as a media panel, which represented the remaining 75 percent.
In honor of Bryant, the format of the game was also reworked.
Instead of the usual time limit, when scores are tallied up in the fourth quarter, a target score will be set, which each team has to reach in order to win. In a nod to the number Bryant wore for the latter half of his career, 24 points will be added to the winning score in order to determine the target.
Additionally, all members of Team LeBron wore a No. 2 on their jerseys, in memory of Gianna, while Team Giannis players wore No. 24.
To pay tribute to the other victims, both teams will wear patches with nine stars to represent all who were lost in the crash, including John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, Christina Mauser and pilot Ara Zobayan.