First things first, there's the Andrew Bynum pre-qualifier to deal with.
In January 2006 I was assigned to write a story on the NBA scoring race, which at the time was being contested between Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson, whose teams, the Lakers and the 76ers, were meeting on a Friday night in Los Angeles. Collecting information for that story provided much insight into the killer instinct that has always driven Bryant ... not to mention somewhat of a journalistic comeuppance.
When this table was turned two years ago, the young Thunder falling to the mighty Lakers in six games in the first round of the playoffs, you could feel this coming.
LOS ANGELES -- By the look of the postgame press conference, it was tough to tell that this was all about maturity for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
LOS ANGELES -- The dour mood that had enveloped Lakers Nation was nowhere to be found inside the Lakers locker room early Friday night.
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Kevin Durant's third quarter three-pointer wasn't even through the net when Russell Westbrook started sprinting toward the Thunder bench, neck arched, a primal scream cutting through the deafening crowd. Timeout, Lakers, and there was no coming back. Two years ago, Westbrook walked off this same floor, against this same team, a loser. He played well in that series, but that Thunder group was too raw, too green to go up against an experienced Lakers team that ultimately went on to win the NBA title. This time around the hunted has become the hunter, and this Oklahoma City team isn't just out to beat the Lakers; they want to destroy them.
The Thunder, led by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, first announced themselves as future championship contenders by testing the then-top-seeded Lakers in a thrilling six-game series in the first round of the 2010 playoffs. Two years later, the Thunder must get past an enigmatic but experienced and highly talented Lakers team in the throes of transition if Oklahoma City is to live up to its preseason billing as the Western Conference favorite to make the Finals.
LOS ANGELES -- The Lakers blast the song "I Love L.A." after every home win, but given the tastes of a certain 7-foot Spaniard, it sounded more appropriate after this one. Over the past four years, Pau Gasol has developed a deep affection for his adopted hometown. Volleyball at Redondo Beach and opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, musicals at the Pantages and concerts at the El Rey. When the Lakers' trade for Chris Paul was vetoed in December, Gasol recovered easier than Lamar Odom, in part because he ended up right where he wanted: back in L.A.
LOS ANGELES -- The brownies must be perfect.
Denver blitzed the Lakers with big runs at the start of each half to blow Los Angeles out of the Pepsi Center 113-96 in Game 6 on Thursday, forcing a decisive Game 7 at Staples Center on Saturday night. The Nuggets ran out to a 13-0 lead to start the game, finally finding their outside shooting range after bricking their way through the first five games. The Lakers cut the deficit to 54-45 at the half, but couldn't come close to matching the Nuggets' energy after the break. Denver went on a 9-0 run to start the third, and the rout was on. For a team whose biggest advantage is off the bench, the Nuggets dominated Game 6 with the starters on the floor at the beginning of both halves in Game 6.
LOS ANGELES -- George Karl tells his team more stories than a father at bedtime, and in the past 10 days, he dug through his mental archive for fresh material. He regaled the Nuggets with memories of the mid-90s Sonics, falling behind the Rockets 3-1 only to force a Game 7, and the Bulls 3-0 only to force a Game 6. He reminisced about the 1996 Western Conference Finals, which essentially came down to four free throws: Shawn Kemp made two for Seattle, Karl Malone missed two for Utah, and the Sonics advanced to the NBA Finals. "You want to celebrate dominance and it's not about dominance," Karl said. "The edge is very, very thin."
The Los Angeles Lakers out-executed the Denver Nuggets down the stretch to claim a 92-88 road win at the Pepsi Center on Sunday, taking a commanding 3-1 lead in their first-round series. Game 4 wasn't pretty, but it was a hard-fought, back-and-forth affair that featured 18 lead changes. The Lakers sealed it in the final minute, breaking an 86-86 tie with consecutive threes by a pair of unlikely closers in Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake.
Buoyed by a return to the Mile High City, the Denver Nuggets hustled their way to a 99-84 Game 3 win over the Lakers on Friday, pulling within 2-1 in their first-round series. Ty Lawson led a huge first-half run which knocked the Lakers back on their heels, and the Nuggets' bigs competed hard all night to offset the Lakers' vaunted Pau Gasol-Andrew Bynum combo, after being worked over in the first two games.
LOS ANGELES -- At 33, Kobe Bryant has already logged more minutes than Michael Jordan, played in more seasons than Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. His 6-foot-6 frame, slender compared to the NBA's modern stars, has absorbed injury-inducing blows to virtually every relevant part. He cracks jokes about his dwindling vertical leap. But on some nights, when the legs are fresh and the back is loose, when there is spring in the knees and juice in the joints, he can appear utterly ageless.
You have to give it to Mike Brown.
LOS ANGELES -- With little more than seven minutes remaining in the third quarter at Staples Center on Sunday afternoon, Nuggets power forward Kenneth Faried drove around the right flank of Pau Gasol and threw up a running scoop shot. Andrew Bynum, stationed under the basket, leapt at Faried and swatted the shot into the last seat on the first row along the baseline. As Bynum bounced gleefully on the balls of his feet, Gasol patted him on the head. Kobe Bryant pumped a fist. The bench erupted. The crowd rose.
The Lakers knew they would be shorthanded in the first round, after Metta World Peace was suspended for the series' first six games for his misguided elbow, but they only found out Wednesday night they will be facing one of the deepest teams in the NBA. The Nuggets will exhaust the Lakers' starters, expose their flimsy second unit, and throw three different 7-footers at center Andrew Bynum. But teams like the Nuggets, without a proven star, usually falter in the playoffs because they don't have a place to turn for instant offense at the end of games. In other words, they don't have a closer like Kobe Bryant, who is rested and primed for this series. One candidate is Danilo Gallinari, who is healthy again, and could fill the void if he rediscovers the touch he showed in the first six weeks of the season.
Los Angeles Lakers forward Metta World Peace has been suspended for seven games without pay over an elbow blow he delivered to the head of an opposing player, the National Basketball Association said Tuesday.
LOS ANGELES -- As he skulked out of Staples Center on Sunday afternoon, Metta World Peace paused for a moment by the Lakers bench, the look on his face conveying bewilderment more than shame. Kobe Bryant wrapped him in a long hug, strange considering World Peace had just thrown a vicious elbow to James Harden's head that prompted an ejection, but oddly appropriate considering their history together.
LOS ANGELES -- Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak sat at a dining room table on Thursday at Staples Center, his salad and chicken going untouched for several minutes while he graciously answered the many questions surrounding his team.
LOS ANGELES -- Homecoming festivities were finished by tipoff, the tribute video and the standing ovation, the thank you notes in the stands and the bear hugs on the bench. When Derek Fisher appeared sufficiently moved, a sentimental night turned serious. The Lakers wanted to honor their former point guard, but more than that, they needed to beat his current team.
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Another day, another drama for Lakers coach Mike Brown.
When Derek Fisher was traded to Houston on Thursday, it brought a painful end to his illustrious Lakers career. The five championships won in 13 seasons in were all things of the past, and the team's present needs -- as seen by the Buss family ownership group and general manager Mitch Kupchak -- included getting younger and quicker at the point guard position in an attempt to remain relevant at the NBA's highest levels.
LOS ANGELES -- A little more than one hour before Friday's game, in a hallway on the first floor of Staples Center, Lakers coach Mike Brown summoned Ramon Sessions and gave the new point guard his to-do-list for the next three months: Attack the basket, run the pick-and-roll, create for others and remember defense. Sessions nodded dutifully. But in the middle of what sounded like a routine job description, Brown and Sessions stared hard at each other, a coach who was once fired by the Cavaliers and a point guard who was just traded by them. "You've got the green light to score," Brown said. Even Sessions raised his eyebrows. Here is a 25-year-old career backup, who backed-up lottery picks in Milwaukee, Minnesota and Cleveland, suddenly handed the reins to a contender that includes Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. In 24 hours, he had gone from the bench of an NBA afterthought to the forefront of a signature franchise.
The biggest news of the delayed 2012 trade deadline came from teams that made no trades at all. The Magic held onto Dwight Howard, the Celtics maintained their Big Four for a final run, and the top three championship contenders -- the Bulls, Thunder and Heat -- all stayed quiet. They understood that a major trade six weeks before the playoffs, with little practice time in between, could do more harm than good.
LOS ANGELES -- The week that was provided the perfect setup for a Kobe Bryant special, one of those vintage performances that serve as a guilty pleasure for anyone who knows how this game needs to be played.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Will he stay, or will he go?
DALLAS -- Four days after Kobe Bryant defended Pau Gasol, three days after Bryant and Derek Fisher called a players-only meeting and 30 minutes after his Lakers had earned a second impressive win in a row, coach Mike Brown was talking about the furious evolution of his troubled team.
LOS ANGELES -- Who knew Kobe Bryant -- he of the menacing looks, icy veins and killer instinct -- was such a softy?
LOS ANGELES -- No matter how many times Mitch Kupchak sees it, he still gets mesmerized by the dazzling play of Kobe Bryant.
For most of human existence we've dreamed of flight, carving winged sphinxes onto Babylonian brickwork, imagining Icarus and all manner of flying machines -- many sketched by Leonardo da Vinci -- until somehow over the centuries these miracles came to be: The magnificent Montgolfier Brothers and their hot air balloon, the Wright Brothers, the Spirit of St. Louis, the Golden Age of Travel, Pan Am, TWA, the jet set and all the while Sinatra singing, "Come fly with me, we'll float down to Peru ..."
"Life is funny," says Sidney Moncrief. Only by "funny," he doesn't really mean funny. He means weird. Strange. Quirky. Unpredictable. "One decision -- any decision -- can change everything."
Free-agent guard Gilbert Arenas conducted a workout in the Los Angeles area Sunday that was attended by Lakers officials, the three-time All-Star confirmed to SI.com via text message.
BOSTON -- When Kobe Bryant came into the Celtics gym, it was like Jack Nicholson walking into that Colorado resort bar in "The Shining." It was as if the old days had been brought back to life and the modern day concerns had receded, as if the young legs of Miami and Chicago and Oklahoma City were no longer in the picture.
Jerry West is convinced Golden State will eventually turn its long-suffering franchise around, isn't convinced that there are any "Super Teams" in today's NBA and wonders why his prized pupil, Kobe Bryant, needs to log so many minutes at 33 years old. As the NBA legend and Warriors consultantreminded us again in his autobiography, "West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life," he is as candid as they come and always worth a listen. Here's what he had to say in a recent discussion with SI.com.
LOS ANGELES -- When Chuck Person joined the Lakers as a special assistant in 2009, the widely held assumption around the NBA was that his real title was something else entirely: Ron Artest's life coach.
LOS ANGELES -- In Game 2 of the 2010 NBA Finals, the Lakers lost to the Celtics at Staples Center, relinquished home-court advantage, and watched Ray Allen sink a demoralizing eight three-pointers. "But I never had so much fun," said Lakers center Andrew Bynum. With Kobe Bryant fighting foul trouble for long stretches, Bynum became an unlikely focal point of the offense, and he scored 21 points in 39 minutes. "It was one of the only times in a Laker uniform that I felt the pressure on me," he said.
The Lakers' old dogs weren't happy late Monday night.
LOS ANGELES -- The moment when Mike Brown realized he had to coach the Lakers came shortly after they were swept by Dallas in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals, a spectacular 36-point flameout that saw Phil Jackson pop Pau Gasol in the chest, Andrew Bynum put J.J. Barea on the floor, and then tear off his jersey to protest his ejection. Brown, who detailed in a notepad how the Lakers were eviscerated by the Mavericks' pick-and-roll, wanted to see what Kobe Bryant would say in his exit interview. Bryant was asked what he would take away from the season, and as he rested his chin in his palm, said: "It was a wasted year of my life." Brown felt an onrush of goose bumps. "You know right there what that dude is made of," he said.
The three-way trade that would have sent New Orleans point guard Chris Paul to the Lakers died for the second time on Saturday night, sources confirmed to SI.com.
The Lakers, Hornets and Rockets continue to revise their three-way trade proposal that would send Chris Paul to L.A., sources have told SI.com.
More than they need Chris Paul, the New Orleans Hornets need new owners.
A proposed three-team trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers has fallen apart, according to executives involved in the talks.
Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss is in a Los Angeles hospital, where he is being treated for blood clots in his leg, a team spokesman said Wednesday night.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Brian Shaw works and waits thousands of miles from Los Angeles, where he helped the Lakers win five championships, where Phil Jackson taught him to win at the highest level.
It was March 7, two weeks after the Knicks had acquired Carmelo Anthony and 20 minutes since they'd faced the Utah Jazz. Having recently lost their two best players, Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams, to free agency and trades, the beleaguered Jazz were no match for New York, who rode a 65-point performance from their new dynamic duo of Amar'e Stoudemire and Anthony to a 22-point win. After the easy rout of the Jazz, the Summer of LeBron and a bevy of big trades, Stoudemire was asked what everyone had long been wondering about the NBA: Is it turning into an unbalanced league of big-market haves and small-market have-nots?
Former Los Angeles Lakers guard Javaris Crittenton was arrested in connection with an Atlanta murder. KABC has more.
The firing of Kurt Rambis on July 12 was hardly surprising. In an offseason filled with questions about whether there will even be a next season, the dismissal of a coach who led the Timberwolves to a 32-132 record in two years seemed appropriate. Rambis, though, was the last coach utilizing the triangle offense, and with his departure, the NBA, whenever it chooses to return, is now without the most successful offensive system the league has known.
If the NFL is able to move toward a labor settlement, it could create more pressure on the NBA to construct a deal. But players' union president Derek Fisher has a different view of the NFL. He wants no part of football's structure.
Derek Fisher stories in the SI Vault
LOS ANGELES -- Cue NBA commissioner David Stern: "And with the second pick of the NBA draft, the Minnesota Timberwolves select ... Derrick Williams."
Lala Vazquez, Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant attend the lavish event for family and friends
The 76ers are continuing to explore trade options for Andre Iguodala, and league sources said that a deal with the Lakers involving Lamar Odom has been discussed recently.
SAN FRANCISCO -- The first time Jerry West teamed up with Joe Lacob, he did so quite reluctantly. The basketball legend was helping his friend, Magic Johnson, at his fantasy camp in Hawaii, and even his status as "The Logo" didn't grant him a trump card when it came to picking teams. This was the Magic show, and so West was left to build his roster from the scrap heap up after his former player had taken the little talent that was on hand. Lacob was a leftover, a venture capitalist with a passion for hoops who would quickly be deemed the "mouse in the house" that day when he was matched up against much bigger foes in the frontcourt.
The Lakers have hired Mike Brown as their new coach, a source confirmed to SI.com
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- There is a recent blueprint here, even if it's a tad incomplete.
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Here's a crazy idea, Laker Nation.
The fallout was fast and it was furious, but this was one movie Andrew Bynum wishes he hadn't seen.
DALLAS -- Does the "why" really matter as much as the "what"?
Nearly three hours before the end of this Lakers era would draw near, one of the last Phil Jackson prodigies sat at his locker in a moment of self-reflection.
The Lakers have been my default choice to reach the NBA Finals. I'd been assuming we'd see them meet either the Celtics or Heat in June, a dreamy matchup that would build on the tremendous following the league has been creating all season.
LOS ANGELES -- It was all so funny at the time.
LOS ANGELES -- Forget about Matt Barnes, Mavericks fans.
LOS ANGELES -- In the recent NBA playoff annals, two of the most commonly raised questions about two of the league's more prolific franchises have almost always had the same answer.
NEW ORLEANS -- This launch feels more promising for the Lakers than their postseason start one year ago, when they split the opening four games with the young Thunder. The Lakers went on to win a championship last June, and they look like a better team now. "We're a lot healthier this year than last year," said Kobe Bryant, "so that's a big advantage."
If we've learned one thing from the first round, it's that perceptions can change quickly in the postseason. When the regular season ended, Portland was expected to hand Dallas another letdown, and Los Angeles seemed to be losing its edge. Now the winner of this series will likely be the favorite to advance to the NBA Finals. Dirk Nowitzki played like an MVP against Portland, and the Mavericks showed the depth, resilience and confidence to be a tough out this year. And after a rocky opener against New Orleans, the Lakers rounded into playoff form and shoved the Hornets aside with some impressive defensive performances.
LOS ANGELES -- Upon further examination, it's quite obvious why Kobe Bryant didn't want his much talked-about left ankle to be examined following the Lakers' Game 4 failure.
The New Orleans Hornets have discovered the formula for defeating the Los Angeles Lakers: have Chris Paul deliver a superhuman performance. On Sunday night, the star point guard did just that for the second time this series. He finished with game highs of 27 points, 13 rebounds and 15 assists to lead the Hornets to a 93-88 Game 4 victory that tied their first-round series at 2-2. It's a fairly stunning development for the seemingly undermanned Hornets, who are playing without leading scorer David West, especially after the defending champs seemed to be in command after a road win in Game 3 on Friday. But now the Lakers find themselves in a dogfight and must hope that Kobe Bryant is OK to play in Game 5 on Tuesday in Los Angeles.
The Lakers gained control of their first-round matchup with a 100-86 road win at New Orleans to take a 2-1 series lead in a game that looked reminiscent of L.A.'s 2010 playoff run. The length and skill of the Lakers' big men were just too much to handle in the paint and on the backboards, while Kobe Bryant supplied scoring and a red-hot shooting touch from deep.
The NBA gap between the haves and the have-nots is widening. That's why the owners are now quarreling among themselves over how much money the richest markets should be sharing with the less rich, and why the "less attractive" franchises want the next collective bargaining agreement to provide them with a better opportunity to hold on to talents like LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Deron Williams.
LOS ANGELES -- The Lakers treated the Sixth Man Award as if it were the first trophy they ever won, the entire team crowding into a hotel ballroom Tuesday afternoon, Kobe Bryant leading a standing ovation, Lamar Odom tearing up at the podium as he gave thanks. General manager Mitch Kupchak presented Odom with the bronze statue in a ceremony before Wednesday night's game and then it was placed in the Staples Center concourse so fans could pose alongside it and take pictures.
LOS ANGELES -- Anybody cruising downtown Los Angeles on Sunday morning, either up early or out late, might have spotted a four-time All Star strolling wide-eyed through the city streets. Chris Paul bypassed the team bus and walked from his hotel to Staples Center, to remind himself what the playoffs feel like, and try to channel some of the energy in the air. "It was the excitement of basketball," he said.
Kobe Bryant once called the Lakers schizophrenic, and once again, it's hard to get a read on their true personality. Are they the two-time champions who won 17 of 18 games out of the All-Star break and can exploit a size advantage against anyone they face? Or are they the complacent and short-handed unit that lost the top seed in the Western Conference, dropped five games in a row this month and watched Andrew Bynum hobble off Tuesday with a bruised knee? The Lakers (57-25) should be able to get their bearings in the first round against the Hornets (46-36), who lost all four meetings with the Lakers this season, and won't have David West because of his torn ACL. Like the Lakers, the Hornets are limping into the playoffs, and will need a dominant series from Chris Paul to compete.
LOS ANGELES -- The Lakers showed Kendrick Perkins, all right.
When Tyson Chandler played for the Hornets in 2008 and they met the Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs, he saw an obvious mismatch.
LOS ANGELES -- Five players, three fans and one jersey were all tossed Thursday night at Staples Center, evidence that April in the NBA has finally arrived.
Several playoff matchups appear to be in place, but there is much to be decided over the final four weeks of the season.
Here's what I heard while on the road lately ...
Even in defeat the Lakers looked like a championship team. They were beaten in Miami by a rival contender that couldn't afford a sixth straight loss. "We had everything riding on this game," admitted Chris Bosh after leading the Heat with 24 points in a 94-88 win Thursday.
No one envisioned so much activity. "It's pretty quiet," a general manager said of leaguewide trade talks following the All-Star Game on Sunday. Then Carmelo Anthony went to New York, which inspired New Jersey to ask for Deron Williams, and suddenly deals that didn't seem possible were courted and consummated. The dealing and the reckoning isn't done yet. Here are the five major outcomes of this year's trade deadline:
BOSTON -- Fragility concerns everyone, be it the first-to-worst-ever Cavaliers or the two-time champion Lakers, who suddenly hadn't been able to beat a contender this year, or the Celtics, who as recently as Jan. 30 were exploiting the Lakers' newfound failings with a 109-96 walloping on their home floor.
BOSTON -- The brightest of all NBA stages is here for Ray Allen, and do the Celtics ever need him right now.
It was difficult to watch the Celtics and Lakers on Sunday without coming to the conclusion that there'll be a new NBA champion come June.
LOS ANGELES -- The Boston Celtics staggered out of the Staples Center seven months ago, six-and-a-half minutes short of a championship, and nothing that happened Sunday afternoon could ease the sting of defeat. The Celtics' 109-96 win over the Lakers did not mean much, but it revealed plenty about the vastly different ways these two teams responded to that unforgettable night last June. The Celtics were steeled, the Lakers were softened, and the first half of this season has provided a mound of evidence. Sunday's game was simply the latest and most compelling exhibit.
Jerry West remains the most important of all Lakers, even if he is no longer on the payroll. His credibility enables him to kick them awake by saying something no one else would imagine, including his recent accusation that the Lakers were too old to defend, they wouldn't be contenders for much longer and they would have a hard time dealing with the Celtics.
The good news for NBA fans is that no more than six teams -- including the reconstituted Orlando Magic -- are in the running for the championship this year. The bad news for league owners is that 24 of them have little or no chance of playing in June.
LOS ANGELES -- Every training camp, Phil Jackson orders a drill in which his team has to make a combined 82 full-court layups within a span of two minutes. If the players need more time, they start over and do it again. Jackson rarely runs the drill during the season, lest he wear out veteran legs, but he dusted it off during a break in the playoffs last spring, and then watched the Lakers sprint to their second straight title.
While the rest of us are contriving our unlikely resolutions for the New Year, the league's players, coaches and teams are already two months into their season. Therefore, we can applaud those who have begun to fulfill their own noble intentions since last season ...
As much as they'd rather play on any other day but Christmas, the Lakers have been looking forward to the visit of the Miami Heat. The defending champs have been gliding through the league's easiest schedule, elevating past third gear every now and then while starting the season 21-8. They've been a team in need of a challenge, and now here comes one.
In this holiday season let us show respect for a most important and underrated dynamic in the NBA season thus far. I'm talking about family.
LOS ANGELES -- On June 26, 2003, Kobe Bryant told then-ESPN reporter Jim Gray that he would opt out of his contract with the Lakers after the following season and become a free agent. That night, LeBron James was selected by the Cavaliers with the first pick in the NBA draft. To Lakers coach Phil Jackson, the events were not coincidental. For all that has changed since 2003 -- Bryant did opt out, but re-signed with the Lakers; James played seven seasons with the Cavs, but after his own heart-to-heart with Gray, bolted for Miami -- Jackson still views the Bryant/James dynamic through the prism of their first PR battle.
A couple of years ago, while interviewing members of the Los Angeles Lakers, I had the pleasure of looking like an idiot on camera.
The reality star is in New York a lot on business, but makes sure she's in L.A. when the Lakers are at home
LOS ANGELES -- When all the players had been introduced and all the diamonds had been distributed Tuesday night, Ron Artest left the receiving line, walked toward commissioner David Stern and asked for the microphone back. A nervous murmur spread through Staples Center, as if the ring ceremony were a wedding reception, and Artest was the nutty uncle who wanted to make one more toast. Stern handed over the mic, though he could not have been sure what would come next: another shout-out to the psychiatrist, a plug for the reality show, a riff on life in Queensbridge? Artest faced the corner of the arena where the championship banners hang, counted to three, and said: "2010-2011."
Around this time of year -- no, not the opening of the NBA season; I mean election season -- you hear it all the time from politicians:
Once again I've empaneled a half-dozen NBA advance and personnel scouts to predict the standings and champion for the 2010-11 season. These are the same league experts who have broken down all 30 teams in exhaustive detail for our annual scouting reports in this week's magazine, with their full reports to be posted on SI.com Friday.
Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant talks to CNN's Pedro Pinto about rivals Miami Heat ahead of the new NBA season.
The greatest game I've ever seen was not only the final game for arguably the greatest coach in NBA history, it featured the greatest play I've ever seen, by the greatest team athlete of our time. That the play did not factor in the result has, over four decades, only burnished it in my memory.
LOS ANGELES -- The easiest way to engender Kobe Bryant's affection is with a throat slash, a clothesline, or a ball in the face. Throw a few elbows in his ribs for good measure, don't forget to mention in the post-game press conference that he is coddled by referees, and chances are you will have a guaranteed contract with the Lakers come summer. Such is the example set by Ron Artest, Raja Bell and most recently Matt Barnes, who was introduced by the Lakers on Tuesday, less than five months after he pretended to throw a chest pass off Bryant's nose.