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Wizards Learn the Value of Star Power

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Eddie Jordan even got into the act yesterday. The Wizards coach rarely breaks out his 1982 championship ring, won as a reserve guard with Magic and Kareem's Lakers. But he had it on all afternoon, hoping for some L.A. mojo.

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The game was over several minutes in when DeShawn Stevenson picked up his third foul on a lazy push-off under the basket. Whatever vision Jordan had of one of his players slowing Bryant, who finished with 30 points on a buffet of pillowy jumpers, disappeared.

Butler tried for a while and made Bryant work, but he's more of a steals guy. Putting him on Bryant exclusively ran the risk of sending the Wizards' stand-in franchise player -- the one guy who could match Bryant's gumption and possibly make this a game -- back to the bench with Stevenson.

Nick Young? He had a few moments offensively, but on the defensive end Bryant essentially gave him a richer Southern Cal education than USC could ever afford.

When he's not trying to play general manager in the offseason, Kobe is still as otherworldly and transcendent as a ballplayer as they come. For all the people who lambasted him after his YouTube tirade against the Lakers became fodder -- he wanted Andrew Bynum and General Manager Mitch Kupchak jettisoned -- give Kobe the benefit of the doubt for realizing what most of us who watched his cry-for-help behavior during the offseason realized.

A three-time champion saw his career and franchise slipping into the oblivion, and he panicked -- throwing everyone overboard but himself.

"He really kind of shifted his focus once the season started," said Fisher, who has added a stabilizing influence on and off the court that a youngster such as Smush Parker simply could not. "Kobe just talked about the players we had here and the team we had here. It became about what we could do to make what we have better."

Kupchak did his job, getting Gasol in a steal of a deal. And now, just like that, the Lake Show is back. The Lakers are 30-16, second in the West, behind just Phoenix.

Fisher, who remembers the celebrity-like nature of being on the Laker team that won three NBA championship between 2000 and 2002, is beginning to see a similar adulation developing.

"It's starting to get there, but I think it's bred by success," he said. "I mean, today is the Super Bowl. You think about what the Patriots have done. They've become rock stars from Massachusetts."

Stars and names like Bryant and Gasol help, though. They bring entertainment value to an already established product. They invite fan bases into their world far removed from their home court. Sometimes, in Kobe's case, one unique player on a good team is so captivating he can bring in the masses by himself.

That's why Gilbert Arenas needs to return by early March. Or else there won't be a mid-May for the Wizards.


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