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9:21AM

The great Jerry West reflects on the great Kobe Bryant

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — This was one of the greatest, the Logo, the man whose silhouette is the emblem of the NBA, Jerry West, who said his own farewell so many 40 years ago, talking so glowingly, acting the fan as much as the expert, reflecting, praising another about to enter retirement, Kobe Bryant.

Those of us of a certain age inevitably link past with present, perhaps too much because memories often outshine reality. West and I broke in together, the fall of 1960, in far different professions but very close connections, he a rookie for the Los Angeles Lakers, I a rookie with the wire service United Press International.

He wasn’t yet “Mr. Clutch,” but he already was Mr. Reliable, and from press row, on the floor in those days, his skills were unavoidable.

It was fascinating Thursday night to hear West, now an executive with the Warriors, discuss the brilliance of Bryant, whom West, then the Lakers' general manager, maneuvered to make L.A.’s surprising No. 1 pick in the 1996 NBA draft.

This was Kobe’s night, his final appearance at Oracle Arena as a player, and despite a sore right Achilles tendon, Bryant did start — after pointing out, “I think the fans deserve that effort from me” — and scored just eight points in the Lakers' 116-98 loss to the Warriors.

This was also West’s night. He was Kobe years before Kobe, and what Jerry prized in himself — a love of the game, unshackled intensity, greatness under the spotlight — he prized even more in Bryant.

West and Bryant are one and the same, 40 years apart, driven, almost obsessed and, of course, unbelievably talented. You couldn’t stop West as he drove toward the basket or tossed up a jumper. You couldn’t stop Bryant. How many times did Kobe hit that winning basket when everyone in the place knew he would take the shot?

“We got what I thought was the No. 1 player in the draft, Kobe Bryant,” said West, “17 years old, and it wasn’t in vogue to draft 17-year-old kids yet ... I think the one thing that was very evident to me right away was that, from my perspective, at 17 years old, I’d never seen anyone with the skill level that he had.”

So the Lakers traded their center Vlade Divac to Charlotte for the 13th pick in that ’96 draft, and got someone West said “was a showman but he was also a winner, and he has left a legacy throughout the world ... One of the things I admired most about him from a distance, because I wasn’t there any longer, was his ability to play when other players would simply not play. He would play through things that other players just wouldn’t.”

These farewell tours have their purpose, even if the man or woman being honored is not what he or she used to be. Some 10-year-old is presented an opportunity that would never come again. Even if Kobe has a one-for-14 night, as he did at Oracle in November, the kid saw him.

If a 37-year-old Kobe Bryant, a 39-year-old Peyton Manning or a 40-year-old Tiger Woods are not what they used to be, they’re still trying, still living the dream, still fighting against what the future holds. West, 77, understands. After a sporting career, life can be an endless search for stability.

“I told Kobe tonight — I had a little time to spend with him — when I left the game, I could have played more,” said West. “I could have played at a very high level, too. I could not play at the level everyone wanted me to play. And I was not willing to compromise what I felt was a standard I had established in this league. The thing that people don’t realize is that players who play the game at a very high level put an awful lot of pressure and stress on themselves every day to come out and try to make the team win.

“ ... I’m not comparing myself to Kobe at all. I’m just telling you, if we lost I always felt it was always my fault, my fault because I felt could have done more. It took me a year, frankly, to realize what an enormous burden had been lifted off my shoulders.”

Bryant’s shoulders still look strong as he finishes his NBA record — and last — 20th season. His legs do not, however, and that’s why he’s struggled on the floor. West reminds us that a different sort of struggle is ahead of Bryant, replacing basketball with another challenge, difficult for any athlete, particularly one as famed as Bryant.

“This has been a remarkable player,” said West of Bryant, “a player for the decades, simply one of the greatest that ever played the game.”

As judged by one of the greatest who ever played the game.

9:22AM

Warriors got what they wanted: 16th straight win

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — They wanted it, and they said as much. No false modesty, no “it doesn’t matter that much,” which in truth it doesn’t — but at the same time it does.

The record, 16 straight wins to open an NBA season, is just another notch on the gunslinger’s belt, another verification that the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors are a very special team.

But we knew that already, didn’t we? They won the championship last season, and that’s the ultimate goal in any sport, and now they’re focused on trying to do it again. But the playoffs are months away, so what they’ve accomplished in the first 16 games of the 82 on the regular schedule is a guidepost to their greatness.

And the way it happened Tuesday night at the Oracle, with a 111-77 victory, similarly was a verification of the decline and fall of their once superior, once proud opponent, the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Lakers, who along with the Celtics were one of two great franchises of the '70s, '80s, '90s and early 2000s. The Lakers of West and Baylor, Magic and Kareem, Shaq and Kobe. The Lakers, who once, during the 1971-72 season, set an even more impressive record, winning 33 in a row. The Lakers, who forever and a day owned the Warriors.

But it’s all different now. The Warriors have taken control of pro basketball, so much so that ESPN and TNT continue to revise their schedules to show the Warriors, to show Steph Curry, who scored a game-high 24 points, to show Draymond Green, who had 12 points the first quarter and 18 overall.

The Warriors, once the punching bag (they won only 17 games in 2000-01), once the laughing stock, now are the class of the league, must-see basketball, the “New Showtime,” while the Lakers, the old Showtime, have gone the other way, almost to oblivion.

They are 2-12, which would be awful even if it weren’t matched up against 16-0. And inevitably, sadly, Kobe Bryant, 39 and losing the battle both to the men guarding him and Father Time, is only a shadow of what we knew. In this historic game for the W’s, Kobe also made history of a sort, going 1-for-14 from the floor (it was a 3-pointer) and ending with just four points.

But this is supposed to be about the Warriors, the wonderful, enthralling Warriors, who at game’s end shared their delight with a sellout crowd (listed at 19,596, but there might have been dozens more) by staying on court while the fans, cheering, stayed in the stands. The guys on the floor loved it. The spectators in the building loved it.

“It feels great,” said Luke Walton of the record and the reaction. As you know he’s listed as the interim coach, temporarily replacing Steve Kerr, who is recovering from spinal leaks incurred during off-season back surgery. Walton — the son of NBA Hall of Famer Bill Walton — insists this is Kerr’s team, and that’s probably accurate, but Walton is pulling the strings in this record run.

For certain, Walton — the son of NBA Hall of Famer Bill Walton — has never lost a game while a head coach, whatever the designation. For sure he’s never backed away from the idea that the record is inconsequential. It’s like a 30-foot shot. If you’re going to go after it, then get it.

“You’ve got to celebrate it,” he said of the Warriors overtaking the 15-0 starts of the ’48-49 Washington Capitals and the ’93-94 Houston Rockets. “You’re obviously a piece of history now, and we want to continue the streak. We feel like we can. But you can’t be content because it’s only November.”

Whatever the month, 16 wins without a defeat is mark of distinction, a mark that others envy and of course will try to halt, which, sooner or later, someone will. But it’s like the “A” you learn in the classroom. It always will be there no matter what occurs in the future.

Before the game, Walton said that Kerr, who sits in the locker room as a matter of medical precaution and to show Walton is the boss courtside, reminds him of four core values: enjoyment, compassion, mindfulness and competition. In other words, have a great time and win. Which is what the Warriors have done since the season started.

“We went by and congratulated each player,” said Walton of what took place in the locker room immediately after the close of the game. “What they did, they now are in the history books. This turned into a mini-goal a couple of games ago, and we accomplished it and now we have to make sure we don’t drop off.

“I don’t think our guys play with any pressure, to be honest. I think challenges like this, in this streak, bring out the best in them. We saw that tonight with the way the guys played.”

Beautifully, brilliantly and successfully. What else is there?

10:47AM

Klay Thompson beats team he cheered as a kid, the Lakers

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — He grew up a Lakers fan, but of course. His father was playing for them when Klay Thompson was born, then became one of their radio commentators.

Still is, but now the son plays for the Warriors and Mychal Thompson had the pain and pleasure Wednesday night of watching Klay at his best — and the Lakers at their worst.

Mixed emotions, like the old joke about your mother-in-law driving your Ferrari over a cliff? Hardly. “He was proud,” said Klay, after Mychal came and went from the Warriors' locker room.

So was Klay. He was 15 of 19 from the floor, in the first game of his third NBA season and the first game of the Warriors’ 2013-14 season, and scored a career-high 38 points in a 125-94 rout.

“It’s always a pleasure playing against the Lakers,” said Klay. “I was going to their games since I was a kid.”

For the Lakers, with Kobe Bryant still recovering from that Achilles injury and unable to suit up, with people named Nick Young and Shawne Williams in the lineup, there was no pleasure facing Klay Thompson or the Warriors.

The Lakers were so bad, the sellout crowd of 19,596 at the Oracle didn’t even once chant “Beat L.A.,” until L.A. was beaten, down 88-58 early in the third period.

Just one game. Remember that. The Warriors won’t always be holding the other team under 30 percent shooting, which was where the Lakers were just before the half, although by game’s end L.A. had climbed to 39.3 percent.

Won’t always shoot 59 percent, as they did in the third quarter. “We were clicking,” said Mark Jackson, the Warriors' coach, and he meant it not as a boast but as a simple fact.

NBA basketball can be irritatingly erratic. Tuesday night, in their home opener against the Clippers, the team that is supposed to move ahead of the Lakers in the southern California pecking order as well as the standings, the Lakers scored 41 points in the fourth quarter. Wednesday night, the Lakers scored 40 points in the first half.

“We have a lot of learning to do,” said Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni. “We probably let our emotions get too high (after Tuesday). And give Golden State credit. Klay Thompson just lit us up, and David Lee (8 of 13 for 24 points) did the damage. He hit some shots that were unbelievable.”

The Warriors may get a better sense of their skill level and future when Thursday night, in what amounts to a round-robin among the three teams, they play the Clippers in Los Angeles. Maybe the Clips win, and then Golden State and both L.A. franchises are all 1-1.

“We have to get better,” said D’Antoni. “That’s all it is.”

But no matter how much better, in this era when the Lakers are tumbling from the heights, they won’t be as good as the Warriors. Or, despite Tuesday night’s result, the Clippers.

Thompson was a starter and not the sixth man because 6-8 Harrison Barnes has a foot injury. Although he’s only an inch shorter than Barnes, Thompson, the Warriors' first-round pick from Washington State two seasons ago, is a different sort, a bomber who can go inside when needed.

“There’s no secret that Klay Thompson is a phenomenal shooter,” emphasized Jackson. “I don’t think enough credit is given that he’s a heck of a basketball player. Not only did he shoot the lights out, but he defended — first line of defense on (guard) Steve Blake.

“Our overall defense was awfully impressive. Obviously that is a team that is coming off a big win (Tuesday) night, but we did the job we are supposed to do.”

This was the first game, certainly, for the Warriors' huge off-season acquisition, Andre Iguodala. Although Iguodala had only seven points and four rebounds, Jackson, the coach, said those numbers are to be ignored.

“When you look at (Iguodala) as a basketball player," he said, "you appreciate everything he does on the floor from rebounding to playmaking. He’s a guy with a high (basketball) IQ, and he impacts the game without scoring . . .  You look at Andrew Bogut’s game the same way.”

The 7-foot Bogut, his ankle finally healed after surgeries and therapy, played 18 minutes and scored only two points. But he jammed up the middle and had eight rebounds.

D’Antoni was enthralled with Thompson’s performance.

“There’s not much more you can tell (the Lakers) than to get on him," he said. "That’s one of the best shooters I’ve seen in a long time. The guy’s good.”

And the guy knows he’s good.

“That’s what we live for,” said Thompson of his big night. “It’s crazy. I never imagined I’d have 38 points in three quarters, but you surprise yourself sometimes.  After my third three, I was locked in. I knew. Actually I knew in pregame. I was hitting everything.”

8:35PM

RealClearSports: Nobody Equals Kobe in L.A.

By Art Spander
For RealClearSports.com

LOS ANGELES -- Perspective is required in judging sports in Southern California, a place where the Angels play in Anaheim but call it Los Angeles, the Dodgers have gone from greatness to embarrassment and for nearly two decades the NFL has been an absentee.

The chaos, organized as it may have been, leaves the Los Angeles Lakers as the only pro team north of San Diego which really matters and its main man, one Kobe Bryant, as keeper of the kingdom, not to mention current leading scorer in the NBA.

Read the full story here.

© RealClearSports 2012

9:37AM

RealClearSports: Cheers, Jeers - and Baskets - Follow Kobe

By Art Spander
For RealClearSports.com


OAKLAND, Calif. -- The people who weren't cheering him were booing him. It was a game in the arena of the Golden State Warriors, but for Kobe Bryant, it could have been in L.A.'s Staples Center.

"Yeah,'' Bryant said, "when we're up, it does feel like a home game."

Read the full story here.

© RealClearSports 2011