Perhaps no one in recent history cared more about winning the All-Star Game than Kobe Bryant.
The format changes and his memory combined to create a game Sunday night at the United Center that would've made Bryant proud.
Technically, the winners were Team LeBron over Team Giannis 157-155 and local charities, as $500,000 was donated.
The last hero was Chicago native Anthony Davis, who made the winning free throw. But the real victor was the competitive spirit Bryant embodied.
Regardless of the headwinds that have made this a difficult NBA season, this contest was a reminder of the greatness of NBA basketball.
As the late David Stern used to say when the league faced troubles: "The greatness of the game will always carry us."
This All-Star Game was great. The Elam scoring system created a wonderfully enriching fourth quarter, the most intense play this weekend has seen in decades.
LeBron James was stealing the ball from Giannis Antetokounmpo. Antetokounmpo was blocking James,
including a crucial one at the rim that created the most intense replay review we've seen to date.
Kyle Lowry was taking charges. Chris Paul, who brought the idea of the target scoring to the league months ago, was everywhere,
from finishing alley-oops to leading a late comeback. Joel Embiid was trying to single-handedly bring back the post player.
And, of course, the final play, on which James, who has spent this season doing everything he can to make Davis as happy as possible to cement his re-signing with the Los Angeles Lakers,
gave up the chance to win the game to gift wrap a pass to Davis that forced a final foul.
"You could definitely feel [Bryant's] presence," James said. "So he was definitely here."
LeBron: The new format brought out the competitive spirit in everyone.
LeBron James shares his thoughts on the new format of the NBA All-Star Game and on what honoring Kobe Bryant meant to everyone.
There were tributes everywhere. From jerseys honoring Bryant and his daughter Gianna that each player will likely treasure as a keepsake, to pregame and halftime ceremonies.
But the real honoring came with the play, and perhaps no one embodied it more than Kawhi Leonard, the game's MVP, and Paul.
At All-Star Weekend in 2012 in Orlando during his rookie season, Leonard found Bryant at a Nike party and used the meeting to ask probing questions about offseason workouts and strategies.
A few years later, after Bryant's last game in San Antonio on his retirement tour, Gregg Popovich asked Bryant for a favor in a private moment.
He wanted Bryant to keep an eye on Leonard and help guide him now that they would no longer be competitors, the San Antonio coach knowing just how much Leonard looked up to Bryant.
If Bryant was the closest successor to Jordan's mindset, it's possible Leonard could take that torch by the time he's done.
They both possess the mix of competitiveness and ruthlessness that is only for the 1% of the 1% of the greatest athletes on the planet.