With O'Neal, Jackson gone, Bryant is free of more than rape charges

October 14, 2004|By PETER SCHMUCK

KOBE BRYANT scored 35 points in the Los Angeles Lakers' preseason opener against the Seattle Supersonics on Tuesday night, which proves at least one thing.

It's a lot more fun facing the basket when you're not facing 20 years in prison.

Of course, it's a lot more fun for Kobe for a lot of reasons. He doesn't have to share the spotlight with that big oaf who can't shoot free throws, and he doesn't have to listen to the Zen Master anymore, not that he ever listened to former coach Phil Jackson in the first place.

Kobe can just concentrate on being Kobe, the selfish young superstar who threw away his gleaming off-court image with an ugly lapse in judgment in Colorado and doesn't come off much better in a new book that Jackson has written about the Lakers' tumultuous 2003-04 season.

No problem. Bryant is used to overcoming obstacles. There was that pesky sexual assault thing and the revelation -- prominent in just-released excerpts from Jackson's book -- that he was peeved the Lakers rented a lousy private jet (Con-Air?) to whisk him back and forth between criminal proceedings. You'd think the team would be more appreciative when a guy's trying to juggle a rape trial and the NBA playoffs.

Now, at least, he doesn't have to deal with those irritating "Whose team is it?" questions that used to come up before Shaq was shuffled off to Miami and Jackson resigned. This is undoubtedly Kobe's team. There's a rumor that Lakers owner Jerry Buss, just to eliminate the possibility of any misunderstanding on that point, signed the franchise over to Bryant as soon as the charges were dropped.

Jackson's new book, a diary of the 2003-04 season titled The Last Season: A Team In Search of Its Soul is not out yet, but excerpts were obtained by Sports Illustrated and Los Angeles Magazine.

In the book, Jackson takes some shots at Kobe and Shaq ("At times the pettiness between the two of them can be unbelievably juvenile"), but he leaves little doubt which side he favors in the Kobe/Shaq rivalry, describing Bryant as impossible to coach and saying he will forever cherish the time he spent with O'Neal.

Kobe scored 35 on Tuesday night.

Oh, and the Lakers lost.

That's going to happen a lot this season.

St. Louis Cardinals superstar Albert Pujols is a victim of national underexposure. His agents complain that he doesn't get enough recognition outside St. Louis, and there is the persistent notion that he has been regionally handicapped in the voting for National League Most Valuable Player.

Spare me.

Presented with the opportunity to face the national media on the NLCS workout day Tuesday -- and to talk about his dynamic performance in the Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers -- Pujols sent word through an Major League Baseball spokesman that he had better things to do.

I admire the fact that he doesn't care how much face time he gets in front of the cameras. Just don't whine when somebody else gets to do the Chevy truck commercials.

Top headline on SportsPickle.com, the sports humor Web site: "Bush points to Army's victory over Cincinnati as proof of progress in Iraq."

Mea culpa dept.: I don't spend a lot of time apologizing (being perfect and all), but I wrote a note last week complimenting new Fox 45 co-anchor Amber Theoharis that -- somehow -- came off as a personal and professional shot at new Comcast sports guy Brent Harris.

My bad.

Several e-mailers and a couple of colleagues called me on the carpet for my unflattering portrayal of Harris as "Bruce Cunningham's former caddie," but Brent took it in good humor and turned down my offer to swing back at me in today's column.

"That's OK," Harris said, "Somebody had to carry Cunningham for those four years."

Contact Peter Schmuck at peter.schmuck@baltsun.com.

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