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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Johnson says he'll return medal

LONDON (AP) -- Olympic great Michael Johnson says he was "shocked" by former teammate Antonio Pettigrew's doping admission and will return the gold medal the two of them helped the United States win in the 1,600-meter relay at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

"As difficult as it is, I will be returning it to the International Olympic Committee because I don't want it," Johnson wrote in a column in Tuesday's Daily Telegraph. "I feel cheated, betrayed and let down."

Pettigrew testified on May 22 at the trial of disgraced coach Trevor Graham in San Francisco that he had used banned performance enhancing drugs throughout his long career. The testimony had been described earlier in the trial.

"The news that Antonio was scheduled to testify to having taken performance-enhancing drugs shocked me like no other drug-related story," Johnson wrote. "...He was someone I considered a friend."

The gold medal is one of five Johnson won in his standout career. He still holds the world record in the 200 and 400 meters. Pettigrew's testimony means that three of the four runners in the finals on the U.S. relay team have been tainted by drugs

Twins Alvin and Calvin Harrison both were suspended for doping violations. Alvin Harrison accepted a four-year ban in 2004 after admitting he used performance enhancers. Calvin Harrison tested positive for a banned stimulant in 2003 and was suspended for two years. Like Pettigrew, they were coached by Graham.

Earlier, Johnson had refused to give up the medal after it was revealed that another U.S. relay teammate, Jerome Young, had tested positive in 1999. Young, it was later ruled by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, had been wrongly cleared by U.S. officials to compete. He ran only in a preliminary round, and the athletes won an appeal to keep the medals.

During the Young controversy, Johnson wrote, he had spoken with Pettigrew and both agreed they should fight giving up the medal.

"I look back on those conversations now and am amazed that he could talk to me about this knowing all along that he was guilty and that the medal was tainted anyway," Johnson wrote.

Johnson said he is "deeply disappointed in Antonio and in the sport of athletics. I now realize that there have been a significant number of athletes and coaches in this sport who have cheated and taken the short cut, and many of them knew who else was cheating."

Johnson talked about his past rigorous defense of the sport against a media that he felt overemphasized drug use and virtually ignored the true accomplishments of the athletes.

"But now," he wrote, "I feel that I have been naive."

Johnson said he would send the medal to the International Olympic Committee.

"I know the medal was not fairly won and that it is dirty," Johnson wrote, "and so I have moved it from the location where I have always kept my medals because it doesn't belong there. And it doesn't belong to me."

Johnson vowed, though, that he would "not give up on this sport and the current group of young athletes like Jeremy Wariner, Allyson Felix, Tyson Gay, Christine Ohuruogu, Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell.

"I will continue to support them but the difference is that now I can certainly understand why some fans may be hesitant to do so themselves."

Johnson did not return a telephone message left at his office.

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Crazy pool table shots!

Beckham urges Ronaldo to stay put

Beckham wants Ronaldo to stay at Old Trafford
Beckham wants Ronaldo to stay at Old Trafford

Former Manchester United star David Beckham has urged Cristiano Ronaldo not to follow in his footsteps by leaving Old Trafford to sign for Real Madrid.

The Spanish giants are tracking the 23-year-old, despite being warned off by United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

Beckham, who joined Real in 2003, said: "I believe he's at the right club now, a club he should stay at.

"He's only been there a few years. He's got a lot of people around him there who will protect him."

Beckham added: "As much as Real are a great team and one of the biggest clubs in the world, he's only just starting at United."

Ronaldo, who scored 42 goals as his side won the Champions League and the Premier League last season, says he will clarify his future in the next few days.

Ferguson is sure the Portuguese winger will stay, saying: "I'm confident about that. I'm very confident.

"It's a game Real play all the time, In the past they've done it with Beckham, they've done it with Ronaldo, they've done it with my fitness coach last summer when they took him away from us, so we're used to it.

"It's a compliment to the standard of players we have, and we always seem to produce, but I am more than confident Cristiano will be with us next year."

"The Glazer family will not be messed about in this situation.

"We want Cristiano to stay for a long, long time. He is on a fantastic contract and quite rightly so - he's the best player in the world."

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Pacman could be fully reinstated by Sept. 1 if behavior holds up

Pacman Jones Granted Partial Reinstatement

Adam "Pacman" Jones and the Dallas Cowboys got what they were hoping for Monday -- a partial reinstatement of the suspended cornerback.

Commissioner Roger Goodell informed Jones on Monday he may participate in organized team activities, and the bonus includes training camp and preseason games. While that decision finally gives Jones the chance to earn his way back into the league, Goodell didn't guarantee he would be reinstated.

"This limited reinstatement is a step in the process," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "Adam is aware of the things that need to be done in order to take the next step."

A final determination will be made by Sept. 1. Jones will have to be on perfect behavior in order to be eligible for the 2008 season.

"Commissioner Goodell told Jones that his continued participation in the NFL depends on demonstrating that he can conduct himself in a lawful and reliable manner," the NFL said in a release Monday. "Jones will be expected to continue the personal conduct program established by the NFL and the Cowboys and to avoid further adverse involvement with law enforcement."

Getting Pacman back for so long, so soon is good news for Dallas. Hours later, the club had more reason to celebrate, agreeing to a new deal with Terrell Owens that keeps the receiver under contract through 2011.

Jones, who has been arrested six times and has been involved in 12 incidents requiring police intervention since being drafted, was the main player involved in the league's player conduct policy, which was created to discipline players who have had repeated confrontations with the law. Jones missed all of last season under the player conduct policy and could miss all or part of the 2008 season if he has another incident.

Less than two weeks ago, Jones met with Goodell to discuss his status with the league. By giving Jones the chance to work at the Cowboys facility, Goodell apparently accepted Jones' explanations for allegedly giving money to a suspect in a shooting incident in Las Vegas. Goodell also must have accepted Jones' explanation for a $20,000 marker at a casino that was just recently paid.

Since being traded to the Cowboys, Jones has tried to surround himself with a better support group. He's befriended former Cowboys Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders. Now that he's allowed to be at the Cowboys facility, Jones will be able to work with Calvin Hill, a consultant who works with player development. Jones also has become friends with several of his new teammates, including Tank Johnson, whom the Cowboys helped return from a similar suspension last season.

"The important thing is getting him here and getting him acclimated," Johnson said. "I have told him you are a good kid, we know you and we're looking forward to having you on the team and we're excited about you proving everybody wrong."

The Cowboys could use another good cornerback, but they're not hanging their hopes on Jones, having spent a first-round pick on Michael Jenkins. Jenkins and fellow first-rounder Felix Jones also can handle kick returns if Pacman isn't around -- or even if he is.

Basically, the team isn't getting its hopes up, considering Pacman's availability a bonus.

"If [Pacman] can come out and help us here, great," said linebacker Bradie James, the defensive captain last season. "But if he doesn't, we've got enough guys to make it happen."

Jerry Jones has even talked about using Pacman as an extra wide receiver. That's fine by Owens, who expects Pacman to be committed to staying out of trouble.

"I think now with a year out of football, he has to really put his life and career in perspective," Owens said. "I haven't seen him play offense. Obviously he has some return skills. Any time you can get a guy like [that] to get their hands on the ball, it's going to help your offense."

Terence Newman, the team's top cornerback, is looking forward to the help, too.

"We're all waiting for him to get here. The sooner the better," Newman said. "It will definitely be a little shock when he gets back because the speed of the game is what you're not used to. You can play basketball, can do a lot of things, but you can never simulate going against a receiver, pressing a guy and having a guy run full speed at you."

Secondary coach Dave Campo expects Jones to adapt quickly. Campo figures the biggest obstacle will be learning Dallas' terminology. Jones wasn't allowed to have a playbook while banned from the facility.

"Pretty much, coverage is coverage," Campo said. "I've looked at some tape of him and I've put a couple tapes together for him when he comes in to show him some stuff. But I saw him up close and personal in Jacksonville. He beat us single-handedly in a game … so I know him pretty well."

John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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T.O. signs three-year extension

IRVING, Texas (AP) -- Terrell Owens has been on his best behavior for quite awhile. The Dallas Cowboys are doing their best to keep it that way.

Both sides agreed Monday to a three-year contract extension worth around $27 million, according to a person close to the negotiations who asked to remain anonymous because it hasn't been announced.

The key to the deal may not be the length or even the money, which is close to what Randy Moss received.

The best part: Owens will not be playing out the final year of his contract, eliminating a potentially explosive topic from a team that needs its attention on ending an 11-season drought without a playoff win.

Word of Owens' deal came a few hours after the Cowboys got other good news: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is allowing suspended cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones to join the club all the way up to the regular season and will decide by Sept. 1 if Jones can be fully reinstated.

Owens' last few deals have been nothing but headline-makers. There was the seven-year, $48.97 million contract he got from the Philadelphia Eagles in 2004, followed by all the complaining he did about it in 2005. The Eagles cut him, letting him sign anywhere else, and he wound up getting a three-year, $25 million deal from the Cowboys.

Jerry Jones sure has gotten his money's worth.

Owens has provided glitz, jersey sales -- and lots of catches. He led the NFL with 13 touchdown catches in 2006, then had an NFC-best 15 more last season. His two-year total is tops in the NFL.

His success also coincided with the emergence of Tony Romo, who went from backup to Pro Bowler by following the simple formula of throwing to No. 81 whenever possible.

Owens has insisted for months that he wasn't worried about his next contract because Jones always takes care of his players. True enough, Jones re-signed offensive lineman Flozell Adams early in the offseason, then recently gave extensions to cornerback Terence Newman and running back Marion Barber. All were quite lucrative, just like this one.

Now that the Cowboys are back to being among the NFC's top teams, Jones wants to keep it that way. As much as he wants to win a playoff game for the first time since the 1996 season, and a Super Bowl for the first time since 1995, he also has seats and luxury suites to sell. The team is footing the bill for most of a $1.1 billion stadium that will seat 80,000 for most games, with a capacity of up to 100,000.

Owens will turn 39 in December of the final year of the extension, 2011.

He's 35 now and in as good shape as anyone a decade younger. A fitness devotee, he's unlikely to let himself go now. His former teammate and mentor Jerry Rice played well into his 40s.

The Cowboys have never brought up Owens' age in anything but a positive light. In fact, since coach Bill Parcells left after the 2006 season, the club and "the player" -- as Parcells called him -- have gotten along just fine. Even fans have come around to the guy who made himself Public Enemy No. 1 for spiking a ball onto the team's midfield star logo twice in the same game while he played for the San Francisco 49ers.

Paying him on par with Moss is another way to keep T.O. smiling.

Owens has averaged 83 catches and 1,267.5 yards over his two seasons in Dallas.

A five-time All-Pro, Owens is ninth on the career receptions list with 882, 10th in receiving yards with 13,070 and third in touchdown with 129.

He's also the active leader in TD receptions, a point of pride for a guy who was the 89th overall pick in 1996, the draft that featured Keyshawn Johnson taken first overall, with Terry Glenn, Eddie Kennison, Marvin Harrison, Eric Moulds, Amani Toomer, Muhsin Muhammad and Bobby Engram among the receivers taken before Owens.

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Source: Curry to succeed Saunders as Pistons seek new voice

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- In the morning, the Detroit Pistons fired Flip Saunders. By the afternoon, the players were put on notice.

"I'm not going to sit here and make Flip the scapegoat," president of basketball operations Joe Dumars said Tuesday. "Everybody is in play."

Dumars publicly put his entire lineup on the trading block, less than a week after the Pistons lost in the Eastern Conference finals for the third straight year.

Among those available: four players who have been together since winning the 2004 NBA title together, plus another starter who just finished his fourth season with the team.

"There are no sacred cows here," Dumars said. "You lose that sacred-cow status when you lose three straight years."

Messages seeking comment were left on Saunders' cell phone.

Should the Pistons have fired Flip Saunders?

Saunders signed a four-year contract worth up to $26 million three years ago. His deal came less than a day after Detroit finalized terms of Larry Brown's $7 million severance package after he helped the Pistons win a title and almost repeat in his two seasons.

Pistons assistant Michael Curry will be named Saunders' successor, a source close to the Pistons told ESPN's Stephen A. Smith. Curry is a former Pistons player and official in the players' union.

Other candidates mentioned include fired Dallas Mavericks coach Avery Johnson and Terry Porter, another assistant last season in Detroit and a former Milwaukee Bucks coach.

"I'm going to talk to a few people this week," Dumars said. "As we normally do, we'll act quickly. This will not be a long, drawn-out process."

The Pistons averaged nearly 59 victories in three regular seasons under Saunders, who trailed only Dallas' Johnson by two wins and San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich by a victory during the span.

Saunders was 30-21 in the playoffs for the Pistons, losing in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals each year. He has coached 24 conference finals games, the most by an NBA coach since 1971 without reaching the NBA Finals, according to STATS.

No Title in Motown

The numbers don't lie -- Flip Saunders may have had the best winning percentage among the renowned coaches below, but he didn't deliver in the end.

Coach, tenure Winning percentage NBA Finals appearances
Flip Saunders (2005-08) .715 0
* Larry Brown (2003-05) .659 2
* Chuck Daly (1983-1992) .633 3
Rick Carlisle (2001-03) .610 0
* Won at least 1 NBA title

Under Saunders, Detroit became the second team in league history to lose in the round before the NBA Finals three years in a row, joining the Celtics from 1953 to '55, according to STATS.

Saunders extended Detroit's Eastern Conference finals appearance streak to six years, making the Pistons the first franchise to accomplish that feat since the Los Angeles Lakers of the 1980s, after Rick Carlisle started it in his two seasons as coach.

Three starters -- Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince -- played for all three coaches, Rasheed Wallace was acquired in 2004 and Antonio McDyess signed in 2005.

"There are 25, 26 teams that would love to be where we are, but good has not been good enough," Dumars said. "I appreciate everything that Rick Carlisle, Larry Brown and Flip Saunders have done, but I also know they were handed some great teams.

"It's not like they had to take bad teams and make them good. The next coach is going to inherit a good team."

Dumars decided a year ago to bring back his key players as well as Saunders, while infusing energy with rookies and young reserves.

But after watching the Pistons blow a 10-point lead with 10-plus minutes left in Game 6 of the conference finals against the Boston Celtics, Dumars said he had seen enough from this group.

"We didn't get it done," Dumars said. "As I walked out of the Palace, I had a real sense of calm."

Dumars was at ease because he knew exactly what he wanted to do.

First, fire Saunders. Then, trade at least one of his starters in a move or two he doesn't expect to happen before the NBA draft on June 26.

Wallace seems to be the player most likely to be dealt because of his one-year contract, inconsistent play and powerful personality that lifts his teammates or drags them down depending on his mood.

"I view him the same way that I do all the other guys," Dumars insisted. "Make no mistake, everybody is in play right now."

Before coming to Detroit, Saunders was 411-326 with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

He led Minnesota to eight straight postseason appearances, including seven first-round exits and an appearance in the 2004 conference finals. After winning a franchise-record 58 games, he was fired with a 25-26 mark during the 2004-05 season.

Celtics guard Sam Cassell expects Saunders, one of his former coaches, to be back in the league.

"He'll get a job real soon -- maybe even today or tomorrow," Cassell said.

Boston coach Doc Rivers said he was surprised by the firing even though he heard speculation that the move was coming.

"I don't understand it," Rivers said. "It makes coaching not fun."

ESPN's Stephen A. Smith and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Kobe has reached the legacy stage of his career

Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images

Kobe stuck it out with the Lakers and his teammates, and now he's on the verge of adding a fourth ring.

If you want to know how Kobe Bryant and the Lakers got here -- not to the 2008 NBA Finals, but here, to this harmonious place after all the turmoil -- think back to biology class, or those old nature shows.

Remember symbiosis, two different organisms that come together for a mutually beneficial partnership? Like the clown fish and the sea anemone. The clown fish protects the anemone from other fish that would eat it, while the anemone's stinging tentacles keep the clown fish's predators away. It's similar to that. Only Kobe is so complex that he's really created his own ecosystem, a web of interdependency.

A franchise has paid him maximum dollars and then held on to him, a coach has returned to him, and a fan base has kept cheering for him because they know the alternative is losing games and losing money. He has stayed because he ultimately realized it was in the best interests of his legacy and his bank account to remain a Laker. Sorry if this lacks sentiment. Nature is cold. So is the NBA.

It seems a little unfair, like there should be a punishment for calling out your teammates instead of trophies as a reward. Maybe we're guilty of thinking this is something more than it really is. Does karma factor in when a shark snatches up a fish? Or is it just a matter of the food chain?

This whole order is a testament to Bryant, of course. It's not just his talent. At this point, you could probably find a player on every roster with more raw athletic ability than his. It's his drive and determination that have made him indispensable, that have enabled him to overcome whatever adversity -- some of it self-inflicted -- that has come his way.

He has rebounded from the sexual assault charges of 2003, his role in the departures of Shaquille O'Neal and Phil Jackson in 2004 (it's doubtful he actually issued a them-or-me ultimatum, but he never did campaign for their return), the Lakers' absence from the 2005 playoffs, his second-half shutdown in Game 7 of the 2006 playoffs, and then his blasting of his bosses and teammates on the radio and Internet in the summer of 2007.

Any one of those events had the potential to be permanent career ballast. They could have defined him, or even broken him. Instead Bryant keeps floating away.

It takes perseverance just to make it to the NBA, Lakers guard Derek Fisher said, "And to play at the level that he's played at his career, perseverance is like waking up every day. When he wakes up every day, he's persevered, carrying the expectations, the fanfare, and the good and the bad that comes with Kobe Bryant."

Bryant always maintained a fast path to redemption: Keep getting better at what he does best. It started in 2005-06, when he kept topping himself, with once-in-a-generation feats like outscoring Dallas 62-61 through three quarters and dropping 81 on the Toronto Raptors. In the 2006-07 season, he got on a run of four consecutive 50-point games.

Kobe Bryant

AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillT

Kobe has finally learned to trust -- and love -- his teammates.

This past season, his teammates did their best to keep pace with him, then Pau Gasol was gifted to him. The Lakers won the most competitive Western Conference race we've seen. Bryant was rewarded with the MVP. The Lakers are back in the Finals.

See, that's all it takes to get back in the fans' good graces. Score, then win. Better than a bouquet of roses. Cheaper than a $4 million ring.

And here's the thing we've learned about Bryant: It really is that easy for him. He is close to mastering the game. In the fourth quarter of the first and fifth games against San Antonio, he did whatever he wanted against the defending champions.

The beauty of his game now isn't in the flights to the hoop, it's in the little things. Watch the way he can create space without so much as a dribble. All it takes is a jab step or a wriggle of the shoulders and his defender backs off enough for Bryant to fire up a jump shot. Or look at the way he gets to his chosen spots. In Game 5 it was the right corner of the lane by the free-throw line. Dribble-dribble-dribble, hit the spot, pull up, gotcha. Dribble, spin, fall away, swish.

Bryant was a hit with Lakers fans long before he reached this skill level, back when he was just a dazzling rookie. It didn't hurt that he had a flashy game and that he arrived in Los Angeles as a teenager in a particularly youth-obsessed time that coincided with the rise of the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears. But it was his industriousness that resonated with fans the longest and helped him win the battle with Shaquille O'Neal for the public's hearts.

The most overlooked aspect of L.A. is its hardworking nature. The movie business isn't all red carpets, it's also 18-hour days on the set. And all those lawns and swimming pools don't mow and clean themselves.

Hard workers on the local teams have always been appreciated. That's how Kurt Rambis became a cult hero among the more glamorous players in the 1980s. And it's why Bryant became so beloved in his day.

Winning always helps. L.A. is a town that adopted the Raiders, which is like picking up a hitchhiker a mile from a prison. But they were only a year removed from winning the Super Bowl when they got to L.A., and they won a Super Bowl their second year there. So there are still people who miss them more than a decade after they returned to Oakland.

Bryant was even more embedded. He had three championships worth of equity (added points for wearing the jersey of Lakers icon Jerry West to the first parade).

Even though he was willing to abandon his fans, to take his act elsewhere after all their years of support, they didn't abandon him. Some booing on opening night was the only punishment, dropped as soon as the Lakers got back into the win column, quickly replaced by chants of "M-V-P!"

They'd already sent in their season-ticket deposits by the time Bryant came out with his trade request. They didn't pay the highest average price in the NBA to watch Sasha Vujacic. For every fan who was outraged by Bryant (most of the e-mails they sent me began, "I've been a Lakers fan since they had Elgin Baylor and Jerry West and played in the Sports Arena"), two more took his side and blamed an incompetent front office for driving him to this point.

Management felt betrayed. Hadn't the Lakers stood by him during the sexual assault allegation, to the point of paying for his flights to Colorado? Didn't it give him as many dollars as it could, 136.4 million of them, even while his legal status was still uncertain?

But management didn't let its emotions overrule it business sense. Owner Jerry Buss absorbed the pain of a player he once likened to a son, turning around and calling him an "idiot." He and the Lakers had learned their lesson from trading Shaq in haste, realizing that even under calm circumstances NBA teams never get better by trading superstars.

"I probably thought like everybody else, they were going to have to trade him," said Nico Harrison, a Nike director of sports marketing who works closely with Bryant. "To Mitch's credit, they didn't. I also thought it would be tough trading Kobe, to make it work, the basketball business side. How do you get value? Even though they might have to, I thought it would be difficult. How many players add up to Kobe? How do you pack the stadium in Los Angeles without Kobe?"

In NBA circles, the further you got away from the epicenter of the Kobe story, the less people believed he would be traded. It just didn't make sense for the Lakers, not with Bryant's opt-out clause still two seasons away.

Likewise, for Bryant, skipping out on the season or even training camp wasn't a viable option. If he did that, he would lose his greatest asset in the minds of the public. As Harrison said, "Whether you didn't like him or you did like him, after a while, he kind of wins you over because you see his dedication every time he laces them up."

You can't win anything if you don't play. You also won't make a good salesman for the shoe company that stood by you through everything. So Bryant would have to find a way to make it with the Lakers, just as they had to find a way to make it work with him.

As a phenomenon, this was no more remarkable than bringing back Phil Jackson a year after they separated and Jackson put out a book spilling the organization's backstage conflicts (including his "psychological war" with Bryant and his desire to trade him). No longer at the top of the league, the Lakers needed the buzz of a big-name hire, and there was none bigger than Jackson. Jackson knew the Lakers would never be hopeless as long as they had Bryant.

Bryant had to realize that Jackson and his triangle offense (which gives him more space and freedom from double-teams) were the best fit for him, and is adhering to the offense more than ever.

"He's always embraced it from the standpoint of liking it," said Tex Winter, the offense's creator. "But oftentimes he's been impulsive and hasn't stayed with the principles of the offense. He has a lot more faith in his teammates now."

Bryant has said he has more trust in Jackson now, values his advice more, and has gone so far as to say he plays to please him. Jackson said he and Bryant have a "syncing of the minds."

In retrospect, none of this should come as a surprise. Look at the natural order of things and go with the path that fits. Dollars over egos, winning over personal pride.

Lakers fans need Bryant to make their emotional and financial investment worthwhile. Bryant needs a successful team to achieve his goals, and it would make the story better if he stays in the same uniform. The Lakers need Bryant to make them viable and valuable. The league needs the Lakers to drive TV ratings.

There are still targets for everyone involved. The Lakers are three championships away from overtaking Boston's league mark of 16. Jackson needs another coaching championship to break free from his tie with Celtics legend Red Auerbach (each has nine). Bryant is four rings away from topping Michael Jordan's total.

Inevitably there will be more drama along the way. Always is when Bryant's involved. But now we're all up to speed on why the past went like it did. All that's left is how the future story will be told.

"I told him the other day, when he got the MVP, that was the saga," Lakers assistant Craig Hodges said. "And now we're in the legacy."

J.A. Adande is an senior writer and the author of "The Best Los Angeles Sports Arguments." Click here to e-mail J.A.

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