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Two Admirers Diverge on Jordan

Times Staff Writer

It’ll be Michael Jordan all right, maybe for the final time, and Kobe Bryant won’t be trying to memorize the farewell wave.

All of Jordan’s old pals from Chicago -- Phil Jackson, Tex Winter and all -- will be happy to say hello, practiced at saying goodbye, and they’ll save the sentimentality. The Lakers have their own issues, and no one does self-involved quite like them, having ridden it to three championships in three years, just as Jordan’s Bulls did twice in the previous decade.

They have 11 games -- including tonight’s against the Washington Wizards at Staples Center -- in which to generate momentum, less than three weeks to pull themselves together around Shaquille O’Neal’s growing game.

In the meantime, Bryant has found a way to laugh at the persistent and clumsy comparisons to Jordan, some meant to chide him, others to laud him. Bryant doesn’t appreciate them but recently filmed a commercial for ESPN that shows he won’t be insulted by either, meaning he’s lightened considerably on the subject.

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So, along comes Jordan, the Wizards straining to make the playoffs, the Lakers probably relegated to sixth or seventh in the West, and that’s where everyone wanted to leave it.

“Nothing special,” Bryant said coolly. “Another game. A big game for them. A big game for us, because we’re looking forward to establishing some momentum going into the playoffs. So, we’re just going to play the game and see what happens.”

Though he’s struck up what apparently is a friendship with Jordan, by appearances he is on the verge of signing a huge endorsement contract with Nike, and he watched Jordan with wide eyes as a child, Bryant said there would be nothing to standing across from him once more.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “You guys know how much I admire and respect Michael, how much he’s taught me about the game. Sometimes, things move on. I’m not going to be teary-eyed over his last performance in L.A.

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“You guys are going to keep comparing until you’re blue in the face. I think the comparisons are starting to die down. I think people are realizing the differences between us two. It’s kind of funny now ... ‘Uh-oh, he scratched his head, just like Michael!’ ”

Jackson, of course, still very much enjoys Jordan, still watches him closely, still allows an affection for the man and what they did together in Chicago. He joked Wednesday about signing Jordan to a free-agent contract for next season, particularly funny in the context of his apparent wish to sign Scottie Pippen this summer.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Jackson said. “I just want to see where he’s at at this point in the season, in what I know is a competitive game for him. It’s always fun to see him in a spotlight situation, and that’s what that will be. I’m sure he’ll be very ready. They’ve been on this road trip long enough so they’re probably playing well enough to give us quite a game.”

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A Sacramento King fan told the Sacramento Bee that he witnessed another fan grab and write on O’Neal’s game ball from the game in which he scored his 20,000th point. “I’m surprised he doesn’t come forward. A lot of people want to shake his hand,” the man said.

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TONIGHT

vs. Washington, 7:30

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Fox Sports Net

Site -- Staples Center.

Radio -- KLAC-AM (570), KWKW-AM (1330), KIRN-AM (670).

Records -- Lakers 41-30, Wizards 34-37.

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Record vs. Wizards -- 0-1.

Update -- The Lakers lost on a Jerry Stackhouse dunk at the buzzer on Nov. 8 in Washington after coming back from a 12-point deficit in the final five-plus minutes.


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