It was like a planetary alignment the likes of which will never occur again in Los Angeles.
Reggie Bush and LeBron James, playing on the same day, within a few Figueroa Avenue blocks of each other.
It won't happen again until L.A. gets another NFL team, because Bush won't be coming back to USC for his senior year. (That was all but confirmed by his father, who said, "It's not my decision, but me, I would say yes.")
While Bush puts the finishing touches on his Heisman Trophy presentation, James is starting an NBA most-valuable-player campaign. It was a rare opportunity for a case study in greatness, and a surprising conclusion -- three months younger, and trailing his counterpart by three years of professional experience, Bush is ahead of James in his understanding of his sport.
They're both among the most gifted athletes in the country today. But no one ever talks about the creativity, the imagination it takes to get the most out of those athletic resources.
Bush is the human TiVo. He utilizes all the controls. Against Fresno State two weeks ago it was pause, with the hesitation move on a 50-yard touchdown run. Saturday, he used fast-forward (a 65-yard run out of the end zone\o7 -- ba-kap, ba-kap-ba-KAP\f7) and skip (a nifty sideways shift to make a defender vanish), reverse and even a new one, hurdle, and every other button at his disposal in rushing for 260 yards and two touchdowns as USC demolished UCLA.
But the most astounding thing about Bush might have been the words he elicited from Ronnie Lott.
As the two teams tacked on meaningless points near the end of USC's 66-19 victory, Lott, the former USC and San Francisco 49er great, stood behind the end zone and revealed a question he recently asked himself about Bush: "Could I have tackled him?"
He reached this conclusion: No.
This wasn't some chump, it was \o7Ronnie Lott,\f7 the man who used to home in on ballcarriers like a laser-guided missile.
Lott couldn't tackle Bush for the same reason Lott never managed to get a hard lick on his buddy Marcus Allen, no matter how hard he tried. Some players just understand the game so well they won't allow you to get a good shot at them. If Bush were a fire he'd require at least two alarms every time, because the first firefighter to arrive could never contain him. And if a secondary player has an angle, Bush just changes the angle, sometimes with as little as one step.
"It's a simple thing," Lott said, standing behind the end zone in the waning minutes of the game. "He knows how to set people up."
A few minutes later, over near the USC bench, the Angels' Tim Salmon used the same word, "simple," when comparing Bush to baseball greats Barry Bonds and Vladimir Guerrero.
"Same thing you see here -- how simple they make the game look," Salmon said. "That's the thing that stands out. They're doing things and you're like, 'That doesn't look hard to do.' Well, it didn't look hard to do because [Bush is] going that much faster than everybody else, and, in Vladdy's case, he's just got that much more hand-eye coordination. When you see greatness, you appreciate it, especially as a professional athlete, because you know how hard it is just to be at one level of success and to see these guys so much better, it's unbelievable."
James, for all of his wondrous talents, hasn't mastered the art of winning at the next level. He made a crucial defensive lapse late in the Cleveland Cavaliers' loss at Seattle on Friday night, and he was slow to alter his game while getting off to a shaky start shooting against the Clippers on Saturday.
"You figure out a way to make the game easier," Clipper General Manager Elgin Baylor said. "Eventually, he's going to do that. He wouldn't have to work as hard, once you've been around. He knows the league, knows each player and the game becomes easier. That's what happens to the great players."
If Elton Brand's game can take off the way it has in the sixth year of his career, imagine what James will do three years from now. He already has the charisma, the flair, the buzz-generating ability, which he demonstrated when he had Staples Center humming on a fast-break dunk.
"I think I've come pretty far," James said. "I'm still learning aspects of the game, where I can get better at it. Things off the court, having a son has really humbled me a lot. It's made me realize basketball is the last thing I need to worry about."
He even managed to work his way to a 30-point night after missing seven of his first nine shots. And he helped his team by scanning the floor and hitting the open man in the second half, then locking in to hit consecutive three-pointers. But he never took control of the game the way Bush did by rattling off 100 yards in the opening quarter Saturday.
The Clippers won, 102-90, but at least James got one thing right -- he caught Bush's show on TV.
"Of course," he said. "That's my favorite player in the world."
\o7J.A. Adande can be reached at email@example.com. To read previous columns by Adande, go to latimes.com/Adande.