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CHRIS ERSKINE

Let's appreciate the best times of Kobe Bryant

Fan of the house:

February 12, 2009|CHRIS ERSKINE

I've always thought it odd how newspapers -- those warm and glowing gas lamps of journalism -- wait until someone dies or retires before writing what they label "An Appreciation."

It's like the parent who says nice things about a child only behind the kid's back. Or the colleagues who celebrate you only on the day you're leaving.

But we won't let that happen with Kobe Bryant, the Lakers' alpha peacock. He may be a genius, he may be an egomaniac -- probably both. In any case, the Lakers guard is probably one of the five best things to ever happen to L.A. sports fans (John Wooden, Vin Scully, Magic Johnson, the USC-UCLA rivalry being four other top contenders).

So let's salute Kobe while we can, while he's still in his prime, in the primest prime we've seen in years.

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Five things you (probably) didn't know about the Lakers:

In an hour, with the help of a rebounder, Kobe can take 500 practice shots -- a little more than eight shots a minute.

The Lakers offense, as are all offenses, is based on penetration -- on how they get the ball to the basket.

Jeanie Buss did not want to hire Phil Jackson, who would eventually become her boyfriend. She thought that Jackson was too big a personality for a team that already had Kobe and Shaquille O'Neal. Her father, of course, overruled her.

The triangle may be the most arcane offense in sports. Derek Fisher confesses that the Lakers ran it better in Jackson's early years. "We were better students then," he says.

Kobe's middle name is Bean.

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When you think about it, it's amazing we've kept Kobe here so long. Quick, name one other superstar -- OK, Derek Jeter -- but one other superstar -- OK, Chipper Jones -- but just one more guy who has stayed with one ballclub his entire career. Besides Tim Duncan, name me one.

Thing is, longevity like this is increasingly rare. So long, David Beckham, and that wife of yours, who had begun to resemble a palm tree anyway. Take all your hype and your phony promises and skitter off, like superstars almost always do.

But Kobe's still here, and will be for life. He has managed to be the biggest celeb in a town dripping with the blingy idiots. He met his wife here, had his kids here, put 250,000 miles on those bony knees.

After 13 seasons, he remains quicker than electricity. Watch his body language on the court. He seems, to me anyway, almost canine in his motions, sniffing the air for rabbits.

At 30, he's still got hops and a kill shot that has surpassed Jason Bourne's. This season, even more than most, the basket seems to get bigger for him in the final three minutes of a game.

How about that junket back east. Sixty-one in New York? The entire Knicks team can't score 61 in New York. It was the best road trip since General Sherman. The guy got 19 while playing with flu in icy Cleveland. That's just sick.

Why do they hate us so in other lands? Probably 100 good reasons, but one of them is that we have Kobe and they don't -- a player who makes a difficult game look easy, a player who makes impossible shots look like pie.

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Five things you definitely didn't know about the Lakers:

Lamar Odom is the loudest guy in the locker room, followed closely by Bryant.

While struggling to raise five children on a CBA salary, Phil Jackson took an aptitude test to find another career. The results: 1) adventurer; 2) lawyer; 3) minister.

The practice drill the Lakers hate the most is called 82's, a full-court layup drill where they have to make 82 total layups as a team in less than two minutes.

A key principle to the Lakers offense is spacing. Fifteen to 20 feet between players is considered ideal.

Tex Winter's real name is Morice Fredrick Winter. In two weeks, he will turn 87 years old. He has been married since the Korean War.

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The Lakers are the best band to come out of L.A. since the Doors. Playing with fire, finesse and heart, they are now our city's greatest passion, with movies a close second, with grumbling about traffic a close third. They are coached by a guy whose voice seems to gurgle up from the Earth's core.

The question that comes to mind is how many years does Bryant have left in those pogo-stick legs of his? Three great ones? Six decent ones? Could he play till he's 40? Probably. Could he play forever? Don't rule it out. Oscar Robertson played 1,040 games; Michael Jordan, 1,072. Bryant clocks in at 918 and seems destined to top 1,200.

The real question, of course, is how long can Bryant play at the level we're seeing today, where he chases opponents across the court like Peter Pan on acid. The things he does with a basketball Frank Capra used to do with film.

Maybe sometimes, it's best just to live in the moment. Sometimes, it's best just to appreciate what we have.

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Erskine's Man of the House column appears Saturday in the Home section. chris.erskine@latimes.com

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