The Lakers put the future on pause Dec. 18 to pay homage to their recent past.
In a halftime ceremony during a game against the Golden State Warriors, the Lakers retired both jerseys Kobe Bryant wore during his 20-year career that came to an end in April 2016 when he dropped 60 points in the season finale against the Utah Jazz, reminding all of us what he was capable of when he set his mind on something.
More than any of the other Lakers all-time greats — Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Shaquille O’Neal — Bryant remains a polarizing figure. While most fans love him, there are still a lot that don’t.
They remember the alleged sexual assault incident in Colorado or they remember how he and Shaq couldn’t get along and blame Bryant’s ball-hogging ways.
Whatever you think of Bryant, he is one of the top five all-time Lakers. He ranks as the third best all-time scorer in the NBA, behind only Abdul-Jabbar and Utah’s Karl Malone. He won five NBA championships, a total that could have been seven or eight if he and O’Neal could have left their egos at the door for the good of the team.
Personally, I always sided with Bryant in his battles with O’Neal for the simple reason that Bryant always spent the off-season improving his game while O’Neal spent the off-season having a good time.
O’Neal never did learn how to shoot free throws and never developed a short jump shot that could have made him even more dominant. His career high for rebounds in a season was 13.9 per game his rookie year with the Orlando Magic.
One off-season, he delayed toe surgery until September, telling Lakers management he hurt the toe on company time, he would rehabilitate it on company time. Bryant was always ready to go when the whistle blew and he left it on the court most of the time.
And though many consider him a ball hog, he actually led the team in assists nine of the 20 years he played, including seven years in a row during the time he led the Lakers to two NBA titles this century.
The 60 points he put up against Utah in his farewell performance was surpassed in my opinion only by the 81 points he scored against Toronto Jan. 22, 2008.
Few players — Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain may be the only two — could score at will like Bryant in his prime and watching him was always a pleasure.
Having two jerseys retired is unprecedented for a player who played for only one franchise, but that’s how great Bryant was. He scored more than 16,000 points while wearing number 8 in his first 10 years and scored more than 16,000 in number 24 the next 10 years.
LeBron James has a chance to pass his career scoring record sometime next year or the year after, but James — an incredibly gifted basketball player — isn’t the scorer Bryant was.
Since retiring in April 2016, Bryant has functioned outside the spotlight, tending to his business interests, coaching his daughters and doing whatever retired players do.
It was good having the jersey retirement so soon, less than two years after Bryant retired. Some of his former teammates are still with the Lakers. The rest of the newcomers, especially players like Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, got to witness a ceremony that honors greatness, knowing that could be them in 15 years if they work as hard as Bryant did.
And for us fans, it was nice to see one of the great ones recognized by the franchise he carried for so many years.
RAMS RISE: That was quite a showing by the Rams Dec. 17. They went on the road with first place in the division on the line and thrashed the Seattle Seahawks, 42-7, to improve their record to 10-4 and give themselves a two-game lead in the NFC West with only two games remaining.
That means any win during the last two weeks or a Seattle loss gives the Rams the division title.
It was a team victory all the way. The defense bottled up Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, the offense scored at will and the special teams performed well as well, giving Rams fans hopes that their team can make some noise once the playoffs start in January.
Running back Todd Gurley has had a bounce-back season after a dreadful 2016 and is now among the top five candidates for league most valuable player.
His 57-yard touchdown run on a third-and-20 play broke the game open in the third quarter. Gurley scored four touchdowns and had 180 yards from scrimmage on 24 touches.
Pharoh Cooper consistently gave the Rams great field position by averaging almost 17 yards on seven punt returns, which included a 53-yard return that ended just short of the goal line.
The Ram defense sacked Wilson seven times, with Aaron Donald recording three by himself. He’s worth whatever he wants to get paid next year and the front office needs to realize that.
This week, it’s another road game against Tennessee. It could be a celebratory flight home from Nashville Sunday afternoon.
CHARGERS FALL: The Chargers, on the other hand, watched their season fall apart Dec. 16 in Kansas City. They lost to the Chiefs, 30-13, and now need a major miracle to qualify for the playoffs.
The Chargers turned the ball over four times in the second half, three on interceptions by Phillip Rivers. Rivers has thrown 10 interceptions all season, but seven have come in two games against the Chiefs, who outscored the Chargers 54-23 in the two games.
It was the wrong week for the Chargers to fall flat, something they can think about the whole off-season.
PREP CHAMPIONS: Crenshaw and Narbonne high schools won state championships over the weekend.
Narbonne defeated Pittsburg, 28-24 in Sacramento Dec. 16 in Division I-A and Crenshaw won a 46-43 thriller over Placer played on the Cougars home turf in Division IV-AA.
In the open division game, Santa Ana’s Mater Dei defeated Concord De LA Salle, 51-21. Mater Dei has been the number one team in the nation most of the year and should continue in that spot.
Over the weekend, the California Interscholastic Federation, which oversees the state championships, announced that the next three state championship games would be played here in Southern California at Cerritos College in Norwalk.
Next week’s championship games will be played Dec. 7 and 8.