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Vegas cheers Kobe as he wins second All-Star MVP

LAS VEGAS -- The first time Kobe Bryant won this award, he
got booed in his hometown of Philadelphia.

He picked up his second Most Valuable Player trophy from the NBA
All-Star Game much closer to his West Coast home -- and the Los
Angeles Lakers' guard got nothing but love in a city that adores
its showmen.

Bryant scored 31 points in the Western Conference's 153-132
victory Sunday night, leading a dominant offensive effort as a
scorer and playmaker for a roster short on point guards.

Five years ago, Bryant also scored 31 points in the West's
victory in Philadelphia -- but the famously crusty fans booed him
every time he touched the ball, eventually roaring their
disapproval when the kid from the upper-class suburbs got his MVP
trophy.

While declining to directly address the Philadelphia brouhaha,
insisting "Philly was great," Bryant was determined to enjoy this
moment under neon lights.

"As players, we always want to feel like we're appreciated for
what we do," Bryant said. "To have this type of reaction here in
this All-Star game is very humbling. I just feel very blessed to be
able to come out and put on a really good show."

Bryant was visibly shaken by that reaction in Philly -- but five
years afterward, he got nothing but cheers all weekend long. The
rehabilitation of Bryant's national image after his well-documented
sexual-assault controversy also took yet another step forward with
a sterling performance in the league's midseason showcase.


"He played within the flow of the game," fellow West starter
Tracy McGrady said. "It wasn't like he was trying to take every
shot, come down and get his game off. He had a few assists. He
played well. You couldn't tell he was going after the MVP."

That respect from his teammates was yet another sign of Bryant's
growing maturity. And it didn't hurt that the nine-time All-Star
was easily the Vegas crowd's favorite player, both at Saturday's
competitions and in Sunday's showcase event.

Bryant judged the dunk competition after finishing second to
Dwyane Wade in the skills competition -- and the crowd even cheered
him after he failed four straight times to make a simple chest pass
through a hoop.

After all, southern Nevada is Lakers territory -- and Bryant put
on a show worthy of a game that began with a performance by Wayne
Newton.

"We have two preseason games here normally, and they're
extremely supportive here," Bryant said. "I definitely think they
could support it."

Bryant scored 17 points in the first half, doing his best to
score over Wade whenever possible -- including a dynamite
3-pointer in the Miami star's face late in the half. He went
8-for-14, also throwing down at least one rim-shaking dunk.

Bryant appeared to concentrate on playmaking in the second half,
particularly when San Antonio's Tony Parker was out of the lineup.
Bryant finished with six assists, including a sweet pass for an
alley-oop dunk by Shawn Marion.

"Kobe, regardless of how people feel about him, he's always
going to be the fan favorite," Denver's Carmelo Anthony said. "He
played great tonight. He deserved it."

With the crowd chanting "M-V-P" in the final minute, Bryant
roared through the lane and threw down a vicious under-the-rim dunk
over Chris Bosh's head. The shot might have cemented his win over
Phoenix's Amare Stoudemire, who scored 29 points in his first
All-Star appearance since recovering from microfracture knee
surgery.

The crowd chanted Bryant's name again at the end.

"It was great," Bryant said. "I hope we can come back."