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SPORTS DIGEST: Kobe Bryant to retire in April

LOS ANGELES — It’s been a busy week for Los Angeles sports with two huge coaching hires — the Dodgers and USC football — and an even bigger looming retirement — Kobe Bryant. Let’s take a look at Bryant’s announcement first.

The only thing that was surprising about Bryant’s announcement Nov. 29 that he was retiring at the end of the NBA season was the timing. Bryant chose an unusual outlet — the relatively new website The Players’ Tribune, which former Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter helped launch — to break the news and then followed that up with a letter taped to every seat in Staples Center for that night’s game against the Indiana Pacers. (Those letters were selling for big money on eBay the next day.)

Bryant will go down in history as one of the NBA’s all-time greats. He is the third leading scorer in history. He was one of the stars of teams that won five NBA titles and lost two other times in the NBA Finals. He played with a will that was second to none, a will that sometimes kept Bryant from being as revered as Michael Jordan, another player with an iron will.

But it was time for Kobe to go. No question.

His shooting percentage is at a career low. His legs are gone, no longer giving him the lift he needs to make his jump shot.  He also has become a defensive liability.

Quite frankly, the Lakers are a better team without him. He is stifling the growth of young potential stars like Julius Randle, Jordon Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell. And if Bryan Scott wants someone to throw up wild jump shots that will probably miss, there is always Nick Young.

It is hard watching one of the great ones — and Kobe Bryant is a great one — reach the end of the line. We are watching the same thing in football this season with Peyton Manning obviously nearing the end of the line.

The biggest compliment I can give Bryant is that he makes my all-time Laker starting lineup. That’s no easy task. Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O’Neal don’t. Neither does James Worthy.

Kobe would play small forward on my all-time Laker team, with Jerry West and Magic Johnson at guard, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at center and Elgin Baylor edging out Worthy at power forward. (People forget how great Baylor was. In 1960-61 he averaged 34. 8 points, 19.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game. He was 6-5.)

Laker fans have been fortunate to see some of the greatest players in the sport play for the local team. Kobe Bryant is one of those players, despite the fact he is no longer that player.

USC interim coach Clay Helton lost the interim off his title Nov. 30, two days after the USC Trojans defeated the UCLA Bruins, 40-21. Helton is 5-2 since replace Steve Sarkisian as coach at USC. (Photo by Mario Villegas)
USC interim coach Clay Helton lost the interim off his title Nov. 30, two days after the USC Trojans defeated the UCLA Bruins, 40-21. Helton is 5-2 since replace Steve Sarkisian as coach at USC. (Photo by Mario Villegas)

HELTON EARNS THE JOB: USC’s announcement early Nov. 30 that the interim had been removed from Clay Helton’s title was surprising. I didn’t see it happening unless the Trojans defeat Stanford Dec. 5 for the Pac 12 title.

Apparently athletic director Pat Haden felt the best chance the Trojans have of winning the championship game and playing in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2009 was by giving Helton the promotion a week early. That should get the Trojan players fired up to win for a coach they respect and admire and to make Haden look good in the process.

The Trojans didn’t need a big-name coach. They just needed a coach who can reach the talented players that USC always recruits.

John McKay was not a big-name coach when he was hired in 1960. He was after winning the national championship his third year on the job. John Robinson wasn’t a big-name coach when he was promoted to replace McKay in 1976. He won a national title three years later.

Pete Carroll was more well known than McKay or Robinson were when he was hired, but he was not exactly a popular choice at the time. He was when he started winning titles.

USC fans want their team to compete for national titles. Every year. That is what Helton eventually will be measured by.

If he can beat Stanford Dec. 5 he will be well on his way to satisfying the Trojan faithful.

New Dodgers manager Dave Roberts meets with reporters Dec. 1 at Dodger Stadium, when  he was formally introduced at a press conference. Roberts played college baseball at UCLA and spent two and a half years with the Dodgers during his playing career. (Photo by Kirby Lee)
New Dodgers manager Dave Roberts meets with reporters Dec. 1 at Dodger Stadium, when he was formally introduced at a press conference. Roberts played college baseball at UCLA and spent two and a half years with the Dodgers during his playing career. (Photo by Kirby Lee)

A WINNING CHOICE: The more I hear from him, the more I like Dave Roberts’ selection as manager of the Dodgers. Players who played with him like him. Players who played against him like him. Reporters like him.

The Dodgers’ front-office was enamored by him during his first interview, so much so that the guy everyone figured going in had the inside shot at the job, Gabe Kapler, suddenly found himself on the outside looking in.

Managing a baseball team is different that coaching a football team. The season is longer, more travel is involved. Keeping 25 players pulling in the same direction for more than six months gets hard during the heat of the summer.

A guy like Roberts, who made the most of his talent throughout his career from his days at UCLA to the 2004 World Series title with the Boston Red Sox, is the kind of manager the Dodgers need. If he can reach Yasiel Puig and draw some of the talent the mercurial outfielder displayed in June and July of 2013 even better.

The Dodgers still have holes to fill on their roster, but head of baseball operations Andrew Friedman’s first major decision of the off-season earns high marks.

Quarterback Jonathan Ceballos leads the La Serna Lancers into the Southeastern Division championship game Dec. 5 against the La Mirada Matadores. (Photo by Nick Koza)
Quarterback Jonathan Ceballos leads the La Serna Lancers into the Southeastern Division championship game Dec. 5 against the La Mirada Matadores. (Photo by Nick Koza)

FOOTBALL PLAYOFF ACTION: The L.A. City and CIF Southern Section football playoffs come to a close this weekend.

In Division I of the L.A. City Section, Crenshaw will play Narbonne for the championship Dec. 5 at 7 p.m. at Cerritos College in Norwalk. Crenshaw is 9-4, Narbonne is 11-2.

The Cougars defeated Arleta, 26-17 to advance to the championship game. Narbonne advanced by beating Dorsey, 42-0.

Crenshaw lost to Dorsey, 35-34 earlier in the season.

In the Division II championship game, Los Angeles High faces Fairfax. That game starts at 3 p.m. at Cerritos. The Division III at 11 a.m. at Cerritos features Hollywood versus Belmont.

In the CIF Southern Section, the last two area teams standing are the St. John Bosco Braves in the Pac 5 Division and the La Serna Lancers in the Southeastern Division.

The Lancers face the La Mirada Matadors at 7 p.m. Dec. 5 at La Mirada.

The Lacers are appearing in the CIF title game for the fourth time in the last five years. They have won two titles.

Both teams are on long winning streaks. La Serna’s is at eight games, La Mirada’s is at nine.

St. John Bosco will face Corona Centennial at 8 p.m. Dec. 5 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim for what good determine not only the best team in the CIF, hut the best team in the nation as well. MaxPreps has St. John Bsoco ranked number one and Corona Centennial number two going into the game.

Both teams have high-powered offenses so expect a long game.

If it’s a close game, the edge could go to Centennial because St. John Bosco hasn’t faced any close games this season. High school rules mandate that a running clock is used in the fourth quarter if a team has a lead of 35 points or more entering the quarter.

The Braves have played with a running clock in the fourth quarter in just about every game.