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Rant and Rave

By PETE YOUNG, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 2, 2003


To be compared with Michael Jordan, to be seriously measured against the greatest, it would help to first be recognized as the best on your team.

Kobe Bryant has become the best L.A. Laker, with Shaq hobbled with injuries. Keep it up, and in a few years he could merit mention with MJ.

Right now, however, the fair fight for Bryant is his peers -- Tracy McGrady, Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Shaq. Separate from them and we can move on. Until then, let's settle down.

Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were in their primes when Jordan broke in, so few were eager to anoint MJ the greatest. It took several years, the clinching moment coming when he carried the Bulls to the title over Magic's Lakers. His pinball-machine stats brought him to the highest echelon, the championships put him in his own league.

Kobe has rings, too, three of them -- all while riding shotgun to Shaq, like Scottie Pippen to Jordan.

Bryant is young (24), obnoxiously talented and, most important, driven. But Jordan is the greatest of all time. Bryant must distinguish himself from his peers before the MJ discussion can be engaged.

Bryant has been extraordinary. Maybe he will eclipse Jordan someday. At last check, however, McGrady led the league in scoring, and the Lakers trailed Duncan's Spurs, Garnett's Timberwolves and Iverson's Sixers in the standings.

RAVE

Here's to the only month with an official moniker of approval from the sports world:

March Madness.

Bubble teams, RPI, bracket busters, Dicky V, quality wins/losses, Selection Sunday -- bring it on!

The college basketball season is entering its final week. Then come the conference tournaments and the Big Dance. For most of the 300-plus Division I teams, it's win your conference tournament or the season is over.

The beauty is the reward: No, not the conference title, which is nice, but the opportunity, the chance, to slug it out with the game's royalty, the Dukes, the Kentuckys, with the nation watching.

Sure, no No. 16 seed has won a game, but many have come very close, and several No. 15s and 14s have won. Just ask Syracuse and Arizona.

Are there more tempting days to leave work early than the first Thursday and Friday of the NCAAs? More folks suddenly become ill than after Cinco de Mayo and St. Patrick's Day combined.

And is there an annual event that rallies the office as does the NCAA Tournament pool? (Not that anyone would partake in illegal activity, wink wink.)

This year, bless our lucky souls, Tampa is a sub-regional host, with four first-round games March 21 and two second-rounders two days later.

First the Bucs, then Gasparilla and now March Madness in our back yard? We've got it good.

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