Asked if he felt pressure in the NBA slam-dunk contest Saturday in Cleveland, Kobe Bryant responded not at all like the young man who brashly genuflected for the television cameras after his victory.
Instead, he recalled a poignant moment with his father, who had told him he would love him even if he missed a dunk.
How could he feel pressure after hearing that, he asked.
It is that sort of parental support that enables another precocious teen, figure skater Michelle Kwan of Torrance, to feel so sure-footed, on and off the ice.
It wasn’t always so. Her father, Danny, tells a story about Kwan’s first national championship in 1993, when she spent a restless night before her technical program, tossing and turning while mumbling instructions to herself in her sleep.
Alarmed by the pressure obviously burdening his 12-year-old daughter, and suddenly aware that he more than anyone was responsible for it, he stepped outside their hotel room in Phoenix, shut the door and cried. Danny Kwan has not spent one day since as a stage father.
For coaching, Kwan has one of the best, Frank Carroll. For companionship, she has other skaters, including older sister Karen. Only when she needs a strong shoulder do Danny or her mother, Estella, step forward.
Last year, at 15, Kwan won national and world championships. Ice is slippery. Anything can happen. But she is an overwhelming favorite to repeat in both this year, starting with the nationals this weekend in Nashville.
Asked to explain Kwan’s edge, Peggy Fleming says, “She’s really able to focus totally on what she’s doing when she’s on the ice because she has such balance in her life in general. She has such a wonderful support system, in her coaching and in her family.”
Don’t look for Kwan to genuflect if she wins Saturday, although she, like Bryant, doesn’t back down from a challenge. “This is the position I’ve always dreamed of having,” she said last week, “everyone looking at me as the bull’s-eye, everyone trying to get me, and me just dodging everybody and trying to fire back.” . . .
Because all his competitors, even at the national level, can land triple axels in combination, world champion Todd Eldredge might go for a quadruple jump at the U.S. championships. . . .
Among the field in the LPGA tournament Friday through Sunday at Glendale’s Oakmont Country Club is Cristie Kerr, 19, the first woman since Michelle McGann in 1988 to go straight from high school to the tour. . . .
Playing for the boys’ team at Sunset High in Miami, she twice beat Robert Floyd, who beat Tiger Woods in the 1995 Western Amateur. . . .
A billboard at Waveland and Sheffield, the site of Chicago’s Wrigley Field, advertises: “Major League Baseball, 8.1 Miles South.” Although their No. 1 fan is Bill Murray, the Cubs don’t have a sense of humor about this. . . .
Neither does White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, at least publicly. He has asked White Sox radio outlet WMVP, which rented the space, to think of a more neighborly promotion. . . .
That No. 25 in the Agoura High baseball jersey looks like he might be able to play some. Barry Bonds received the jersey for appearing at a fund-raiser last Saturday for the school’s baseball team. . . .
Bonds went to Agoura as a favor to Ashlee Gilbert, a freshman at the school and agent Dennis’ daughter. . . .
Pat Powers, the new USC men’s volleyball coach, is off to a fast start, having beaten No. 1 Stanford, No. 2 Brigham Young and No. 11 Pacific. . . .
Going into Wednesday night’s game at UC San Diego, he had a 6-3 record. That’s only 893 victories behind UCLA Coach Al Scates, who goes for No. 900 tonight at Pepperdine. Scates has won 16 NCAA championships, tying him for first on the all-time list with former Houston golf coach Dave Williams. . . .
Jack Reilly, formerly the head coach at Beverly Hills High and El Camino College, is Troy Aikman’s new quarterback coach with the Dallas Cowboys. . . .
Santa Anita hasn’t been kind this winter to reigning Breeders’ Cup champions. Alphabet Soup and Boston Harbor both lost there. That’s ominous for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner, Jewel Princess, who runs Sunday in the Santa Maria Handicap. . . .
Minnesota Viking running back Robert Smith guests on “Mystery Science Theatre 3000" Saturday. The featured film is “The Mole People.” As Jim Healy would have said, “I don’t make ‘em up, pally.”
While wondering what Herb Caen would have written about the 49ers’ threat to leave San Francisco, I was thinking: We’ll take ‘em--even with Elvis Grbac, UCLA would have a better chance tonight if it could take its own timekeeper to Arizona, I miss Jim Healy.