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On-Court Challenges Become Less Important

I received an e-mail from “Andrew,” who said he found it odd “nobody has reported anything about Kobe’s opinion on the recent signings of Gary Payton and Karl Malone.”

“Not one word,” he wrote, which got me to wondering if we will ever see Kobe Bryant again in a Laker uniform.

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NOW I can’t imagine Bryant spending one second of his uneasy life right now wondering how Payton and Malone might fit into the Lakers’ plans. And as the legal process continues to unfold, I cannot imagine a single second in his life when basketball will dominate his attention.

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In fact, I would not be surprised some day in the next few weeks to hear that Bryant has decided to put his basketball career on hold while he dedicates his energies toward his legal problems and his personal life.

Some people will suggest playing basketball will afford him the opportunity to take his mind off his troubles. I have not been in his position, but I cannot imagine anything taking one’s mind off the possibility of serving time, and do you think the cowbell fans in Sacramento are going to allow Bryant to find sanctuary on the basketball court?

And how about those postgame interviews with Court TV reporters dominating the conversation?

It’s just a hunch right now, and I hope I’m wrong and in the long run this proves to be nothing more than wasted space on Page 2. (Fill in your own wisecrack here.)

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But taking it to the extreme, if his legal concerns drag on and he does make the decision to put basketball on hold during this -- the final year of his contract -- and if ultimately found not guilty, he could begin fresh somewhere else a year from now.

Outlandish? No more so than what has already taken place.

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DODGER PITCHING coach Jim Colborn told The Times, “Frankly, I’m amazed that the pitchers have been able to remain aggressive under the circumstances,” referring to the lack of run support.

Frankly, Dodger pitchers are paid millions of dollars to play a game for a living seven months a year, and if they can’t remain aggressive no matter what the circumstances, they deserve no one’s support.

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THE GIANTS’ magic number to eliminate any chance of the Dodgers’ winning the division title is 43. The Mariners’ magic number to eliminate the Angels is 44, and it’s going to be an exciting, thrilling race to see which one of our local teams is eliminated from winning a division title first.

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THE DODGERS were tied for first on June 21, and now as we reach the trading deadline, they’ve fallen 13 1/2 games behind. But I’m sure General Manager Dan Evans’ golf game has improved.

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THE PINNACLE Distance Challenge will take place Saturday at the San Bernardino Golf Course, with the first 250 competitors to show up earning a free chance to beat the pros and win $5,000, and qualify for a $1-million shot.

I couldn’t wait until Saturday. I cornered Mike Moulton, one of the top long hitters in the world, who is part of the Pinnacle Distance Team along with John Daly, and challenged him.

Moulton has hit a golf ball 475 yards in competition, but never again because I borrowed his Cobra 427 driver, hit the ball in the wrong place and snapped the head off the club. Good luck, Mike, in Saturday’s competition.

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MOULTON’S TASK Saturday will be to take on the top 10 amateurs who emerge from the field of 250. Moulton and each player will then get five shots, and the long shot wins. A week ago Moulton hit four balls out of bounds, “whiffed” on his fifth attempt and an amateur walked away with $5,000. Moulton and teammate Jason Zuback have taken on 90 amateurs on their current tour, and five have walked away with $5,000 checks.

There will also be contests for juniors, women and seniors, which is good news for Sports Editor Bill Dwyre, and free instruction from the pros, which is good news for Sports Editor Bill Dwyre. The top 48 players on the long distance tour will return Sunday to compete for $64,000 in prizes, and the public is invited to oooh and aaah. If someone brings a driver and lends it to Moulton, he might even have a chance to compete.

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HE BEGAN by cutting beer prices, and the cuts have continued -- water, soda, souvenirs and now Kevin Appier. Apparently new Angel owner Arte Moreno has money to burn. Moreno will have to make good on Appier’s $12-million contract next season, so drink up before those prices start to rise again.

The Angels obviously have bagged it this year and are already looking toward next season with the emphasis on youth, although Moreno disagreed, and said, “Let me tell you a story.” At that point his son, Rico, like sons everywhere who have heard the same story over and over again, rolled his eyes.

“When I coached Little League, I told the kids if I’m a good coach, you will be a better team at the end of the season than what you were at the beginning.”

I reminded Moreno the Angels were 6 1/2 games behind Seattle at the beginning of his tenure as owner, and they are now 12 1/2 behind. Good owners aren’t supposed to let something like that happen.

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JACK NICHOLSON was at the Angel game Wednesday night. At least it wasn’t a new experience watching a defending champion underachieve.

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TODAY’S LAST word comes from Melanie Hopkins:

“I hope you took advantage of the opportunity to finally go to a Sparks’ game Wednesday afternoon and see what the excitement is all about.”

How do you deal with disappointment?

T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com.


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