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

Kobe Bryant scored nine points with four assists in 28 minutes for the Lakers in his regular-season debut Sunday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

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

8. Fred Astaire

9. Muhammad Ali

10. Joe DiMaggio

I’m seldom if ever wrong, but am willing to admit to possible oversights. Barry Sanders could be there instead of Allen. Sam Snead should probably get some votes. What about Bobby Orr?

Bowling’s Earl Anthony certainly belongs (bet you didn’t see that coming). I also noticed that Laker Girl Brandi seems to, even within the confines of her dance team’s crushing conformity, move a little special.

Some people might even argue against Astaire. I assure you there are three older dudes in Burbank right now saying, “How could this dolt forget Gene Kelly?”

But this is my list, not theirs. Look for it posted soon on the door of some church.


Most egregious Staples price: $18 for a six-pack of Sprite in the suites’ food menu.


Most-egregious self-fulfilling prophecy: Pau Gasol’s sagging shoulders after being booed.


There is something about a snow football game that always brings a smile. It is the adult version of kids stomping through a mud puddle.

To date, the most joyous holiday scene of the season was Philadelphia Eagles players making snow angels Sunday. Certainly not the first time Eagles players have ever associated with significant religious icons. But close.

Love that the NFL leaves the field mostly alone during a snowstorm. To clear anything besides the line markers violates league bylaws and the spirit of the sport.

Sunday’s game looked like a Lewis and Clark expedition through the Cascades. This year’s Super Bowl, to be staged outside New York, may be even better.

A bright orange ball wouldn’t be a bad concession to make in heavy rains or snow. Other than that, football in the elements is sloppy perfection.


Speaking of Walter Payton, L.A. businessman Bill Shupper remembers drawing up some insurance for one of the late running back’s businesses. Unsolicited, Payton’s rep promised an autographed ball when the deal was done.

Well, Shupper didn’t get the ball. He didn’t complain — after all, it was the rep’s idea. Shupper simply blew it off as some flunky overpromising.

Months later, on Christmas Eve, the doorbell rang with a special package: a signed football with a note saying “A deal’s a deal. Merry Christmas, Walter.”

Just one of the many fond memories associated with Payton. Makes you think that instead of the misguided remake of “Brian’s Song” a few years ago, someone should have made a biopic on Walter Payton.

In the magic and mayhem of an especially snowy December, here’s to Sweetness.

Twitter: @erskinetimes