CHRIS ERSKINE / FAN OF THE HOUSE

In his flow chart, Kobe Bryant ranks among the all-time smoothies

Some athletes have hydraulic fluid in their veins, and that still describes the Lakers' Bryant, even as he struggles to work out some significant kinks.

I always feel fleeced after going to Staples Center; the prices are just enormous. This might be the worst value in America, and that includes the Kardashian sisters and overpriced Bavarian sedans.

Still, I go because "that's where the money is," as Willie Sutton purportedly said when asked why he robbed banks.

Were he alive today, even Sutton could not afford a Lakers game.

Yet, there is a buzzy, irresistible splendor to the joint. I hate that I like it. Honestly, there is a giant Christmas tree outside Staples that looks to be made of recycled Toyotas.

I also go to Staples because live theater deserves our support, and there are things you can appreciate in person that you just don't get at home: the way an offense flows, the jiggle of the crowd.

The other night, I went to see Kobe Bryant, a player of some promise and lots of question marks. Just like when he was 17.

Remember the first time you saw Bryant and thought, "Wow, that kid is really something special"?

That came to mind again Sunday night when he brought the ball up the court, still crazy smooth after all these years.

Some athletes have hydraulic fluid in their veins, and that still describes Bryant, even as he struggles to work out some significant kinks. Despite his struggles, he has moments in which he still seems made of rubber bands.

Indeed, for all the herky-jerky athleticism in pro sports, there are only a handful of players who have glided across the stage.

Like Brubeck or Baryshnikov, Kobe must hear different rhythms than the rest of us. Walter Payton and Willie Mays also had a special music in their bones.

With that in mind, here is my inaugural (and only) All-Fluid Team, an ode to the smoothest athletes ever:

1. Kobe Bryant

2. Willie Mays

3. Michael Jordan

4. Walter Payton

5. Marcus Allen

6. Magic Johnson

7. Wayne Gretzky

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