By Frank Pingue
TORONTO (Reuters) - Kobe Bryant made the biggest stop of his farewell tour on Sunday as he played the last NBA All-Star Game of a remarkable career in which he established himself as arguably the best player of his generation.
Bryant, who said all week he did not want his fellow players to go easy on him in his final All-Star Game, was a shadow of the player who dominated the NBA's midseason showcase many times before, but was still the man of the hour.
Prior to the game's opening tip, NBA great Magic Johnson lauded the 37-year-old in between a pair of tribute videos featuring some career highlights interspersed with messages of thanks from a handful of fellow NBA players.
Bryant announced last November that this would be his final season and was made the leading vote-getter for his 18th and final All-Star appearance by fans.
"I just want to thank you guys for all of your support for all these years," Bryant told the Toronto crowd and a global television audience.
"I've been extremely fortunate to be able to play the game that I love and be in the NBA for more than half my life.
"It's a thrill to be here in this All-Star Game so thank you for voting me in. I get a chance to be around these young players here, who when I first started playing most of them were my kids' age now.
"It feels so good to be able to speak to them about the game and to be able to share some of the knowledge that I have learned throughout my career to them so that they can carry on the tradition of the NBA and hopefully play 20 years themselves."
When the first NBA All-Star Game to be held outside of the United States finally got underway, it was Bryant who went up against LeBron James for the opening tip. James won the tip but appeared to send it over to Bryant's Western Conference team.
Bryant played nearly 15 minutes in the first half and scored 10 points, including a patented fadeaway late in the opening quarter that drew loud cheers from a celebrity-dotted crowd that included director Spike Lee and supermodel Kate Upton.
The 20-year NBA veteran, who by his own admission this week is "old as hell," was held without a point the rest of the way.
When Bryant, a five-time NBA champion, two-time NBA Finals MVP, one-time league MVP and four-time All-Star Game MVP during a career spent entirely with the Los Angeles Lakers, checked out of the game with 66 seconds left, he received a standing ovation from both team benches while the crowd chanted "Kobe, Kobe."
Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder was named the game's Most Valuable Player for a second consecutive year after leading the Western Conference with 31 points in a 196-173 win that set a record for combined points in an NBA All-Star Game.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)