The jolly man laughed. He talked to several children sitting on his lap. He posted for pictures.
The kids may have shared what they wanted for Christmas. But the man was not Santa Claus. The man was Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who became the center of attention during the franchise’s annual holiday party for 60 kids from School On Wheels, a tutoring service for homeless students.
“I wasn’t Santa himself. I was Santa’s worker,” Bryant cracked, as the reason why he didn’t wear a red suit and a hat. “I didn’t want to falsely represent the North Pole. I’m more like a contractor.”
Either way, Bryant may receive one Christmas gift that will come two months later. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver had argued Bryant should appear in the 2016 NBA All-Star game in Toronto on Feb. 14, 2016 during his 20th and final NBA season.
This would normally mark a no brainer for Bryant, who has been voted in for 17 All-Star games. But he has averaged only 16.5 points on 33 percent shooting, 4.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists.
“It would be great to play in it,” Bryant said following Wednesday’s practice at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo. “If I’m not in it, I’m not going to beat myself up over that either. I’ll support the game no matter what. I’ll support the players no matter what.”
Bryant’s global popularity should offset those issues. Bryant should also benefit from being listed as a frontcourt player after manning the small forward position. He will not have to compete for a backup spot against Stephen Curry, James Harden, Chris Paul or Russell Westbrook. But Bryant could also appear in the game on merit. In the past five games, Bryant has averaged 18.2 points on 47.2 percent shooting and 4.2 assists.
“It would be great, but a the same time I’ve played in a lot of them, so it’s always great to have the younger guys step up and get their opportunities as well,” Bryant said. “I’ve played in quite a few. If I’m fortunate to be there, I’ll be extremely grateful for that. If I’m not, at the same token, I’ll be extremely grateful for the opportunities I’ve had.”