Next Jordan? Bryant Gains Unabashed Supporter

Lyle Spencer writing in the New York Post on Kobe Bryant: "Can Kobe possibly surpass Michael [Jordan] as the greatest player ever? You say no way. I say sure, why not? . . .

"As impossible as it is for Michaelologists to fathom, Kobe is on course to go where Jordan went, and keep on going. The similarities in their game are too visible to escape, and Bryant keeps making up new touches as he goes along, just as Michael did in his time . . .

"At 22, Kobe is a more finished product than Michael was at 22, a better all-around player, and with Friday night's NBA championship has two more rings than Mike at the same age."

Trivia time: When was the only time the U.S. Open was held in the Los Angeles area?

Remember? The faltering putting at the 18th hole Sunday in the U.S. Open is not without precedent in a major tournament. In the 1989 Masters, Scott Hoch needed to make a two-foot putt on the 10th hole, the first playoff hole, to defeat Nick Faldo.

He missed and Faldo won the 11th hole and the tournament. Fred Robledo, writing for the L.A. Herald-Examiner, wrote that "Hoch rhymes with choke."

He said what? Scott Ostler in the San Francisco Chronicle: "Buck guard Sam Cassell is trapped in his car during a Houston flood, escapes through the sun (ha!) roof, says: 'It wasn't that scary, but it was frightening.'

"Me, I would have been frightened, but not scared."

More Ostler: "Deion Sanders should try the NBA next. He could make history as the first athlete ever to be washed up in three major sports at once."

Happy camper now: Offensive tackle Leon Searcy, who left Jacksonville for the Baltimore Ravens, ripped Jaguar Coach Tom Coughlin without actually naming him:

"This team is very veteran friendly. [Coach Brian] Billick believes in working. He believes in taking care of his guys. He's big on morale. I think that's one thing that may have been lacking in Jacksonville. With all the talent we had there, some of the guys dreaded coming to practice."

Bet on it: Portland Trail Blazer General Manger Bob Whitsitt, on the media's speculation over his coaching search: "I have not offered it to anybody, and I'm sure tonight I'll hear another report that I have hired somebody else."

Classy analogy: Shane Battier, who played four seasons at Duke, comparing his NBA-draft stock with that of high school players: "I'm looking at it in terms of the stock market. A lot of these young guys are like IPOs. The potential for greatness is obviously there, but there is a chance they may dissolve."

No perks: From Conan O'Brien: "The NFL Players Assn. has agreed to a brand-new contract that would run through the year 2007. In a related story, the XFL Players' Assn. agreed to work the late shift at 7-Eleven."

FYI: The Terrible Twenty Tournaments, the longest running golf group in Southern California, recently celebrated its 75th anniversary and its 900th consecutive monthly tournament, an unbroken string that began in May 1926.

Trivia answer: In 1948 at Riviera Country Club, where Ben Hogan won, defeating Jimmy Demaret by two shots.

And finally: Gary Shelton of the St. Petersburg Times, writing before Phil Mickelson shot himself out of contention with a 75 on Sunday in the U.S. Open:

"This is a defining moment in Mickelson's career. If he shows up today, he can silence this talk about never winning a major and end the jokes about the never-on-Sunday golfer . . .

"Fail, and the world will not let him forget it. Flop, and they'll change the spelling of this state to Chokelahoma."

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