Before I get to Saturday night's visit to the Dodgers' clubhouse and inspiring James Loney to hit a home run — and I don't make this stuff up — I just want to tell you how proud I am of everyone in L.A.
It's been a great week for Kobe Bryant, reminders everywhere of what a great competitor he is, so focused and determined with everything on the line, and how the same can't be said of LeBron James.
I'm talking about Times reporter Broderick Turner, who started the week off writing under the headline and giving us goose bumps all over, "Kobe Bryant Already Has His Game Face On, A Week Before Lakers' Next Game."
I'm talking about the guys on 710 who do the Lakers postgame show, using "great players" like Magic, Michael and Kobe to denigrate LeBron, asking and answering the question, "What would Kobe do in a close-out game? He'd take over."
I'm also talking about e-mailers like Vibhav Mittal, who wrote this week: "You cannot argue with the fact that Kobe has a focus that puts Michael Jordan to shame."
Or this from Judge Kelvin D. Filer: "LeBron's no Kobe," and "Interesting to watch LeBron 'disappear' in that critical playoff game …can you imagine if Kobe had a game like that?"
Amnesia in sports is such a wonderful thing.
Not one mention from anyone this week, as if it never happened, Kobe Bryant, the greatest closer in the game taking three shots and scoring only one point on a technical free throw in the second half of the seventh game of a playoff series with Phoenix in 2006.
Can you imagine great players like LeBron, Michael or Magic having a close-out game like that?
Kobe scored 50 points in Game 6 against the Suns, 23 in the first half of Game 7, but then someone in the Lakers locker room suggested at halftime that everyone needed to get more involved for the Lakers to be successful.
And so Kobe went out of his way to make that happen, declining to make any move for the basket, but making some wonderful passes to his teammates who couldn't score.
The NBA ticker back then called it a "puzzling disappearing act, Bryant deferring to his teammates in the second half."
What a team player, though, as we all know now.
I'd like to be the first to say I don't think there's any way Kobe tanks again in Phoenix.
He probably got that out of his system in Oklahoma City a few weeks back in Game 4 after Phil Jackson criticized some of his shots taken in Game 3.
He tanked in Phoenix only to demonstrate the Lakers couldn't win without better players.
Some people think LeBron did almost the same thing in Game 5, shutting it down because his teammates were letting him down.
Kobe was 27 when he tanked, though, and no one even remembers it here five years later, or finds it odd that such a great competitor would do such a thing to prove a point.
LeBron is 25, and as much damage as he's done to his own reputation this week with ridiculous comments and an early exit from the playoffs, five years from now no one will probably give it a thought, while referring to him as the game's greatest closer.
BEFORE SATURDAY night's game with the Padres, I was telling Loney he needs to hit more home runs, so first time up, first pitch, he hits a home run. It's just what we do here.
As good as Matt Kemp can be, and as good as Andre Ethier is, there's Loney, who for the most part goes unnoticed, this season sneaking up on everyone with a .322 batting average.
"He's pretty special," says Manager Joe Torre, who finds Loney's personality as interesting as Loney's baseball skills. "He handles stress about as well as anyone I know."
The kid is a hoot, as matter of fact as anyone you might meet, which makes him such a steadying influence in the clubhouse, accessible, funny and just fine with the way his Dodgers career is unfolding.
"I feel good," he says, aware but unconcerned about trade rumors every year that seem to include his name. "I feel better the way I'm stroking the ball. The way the ball comes off the bat tells you if someone can hit home runs. And I like the way the ball is coming off the bat."
And landing in the stands.
RONNIE LOTT injured his pinkie finger, had them lop off the end of it and went right back to hitting everything in sight.
Ethier hurt his pinkie in batting practice and begged out of the starting lineup. Of course, I'd like to see Lott try and play 162 games a year.
FROM THE sound of it here, there wasn't a single Padres fan in attendance. Everyone was cheering for the Dodgers, the folks in San Diego apparently staying home and counting the days until the Chargers blow it again in the playoffs.
Hint: Just count back from Jan. 23, 2011, the AFC championship game.
Then again, most folks in San Diego know the Padres' joyride will probably be over by the time training camp starts.
JONATHAN BROXTON got credited with a save and a win Saturday. He saved the Dodgers victory and won the team's Preakness pool.
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