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KOBE BY FAR BRIGHTEST STAR IN L.A. GALAXY.

Byline: STEVE DILBECK

Today, Kobe Bryant ...

Gotcha!

Yeah, I know. That was too easy. You just can't help yourself. It had that magnetic word: Kobe.

He has a pull like no other sports celebrity in this city. He is the supernova of L.A. sports stars. And there may never have been a time in Southern California when a single sports star so clearly stood alone.

Kobe hiccups and it's news. Kobe goes for 40, big news. Kobe trashes teammates, management and asks for a trade, and it's mega, stop-the- presses, Armageddon-is-upon-us news.

The poor Ducks are trying to win a Stanley Cup in a media vacuum.

The Dodgers and Angels are in first place. The Galaxy's season is under way, the NCAA baseball playoffs have begun, the Clippers are in the lottery -- and all are completely dwarfed by anything Kobe.

This was all underscored this past week when Kobe flip-flopped so many times Mitt Romney asked him to be his running mate.

Kobe had his own personal radio row. He called the Lakers front office a mess. Said he wanted to be traded. No, wait, he really loves the Lakers. Wants to end his career a Laker. Check that, he absolutely wants a trade.

Banner headlines were being changed by the hour. It was so hectic, so surreal, that the next day the really big Kobe news was that there was no Kobe news.

Has anyone been left wondering if the Lakers are still the No. 1 sports team in Los Angeles? Three disappointing seasons, and it's gnats on the windshield.

Even less questioned is Kobe's place in the L.A. sports universe.

He is so many light years beyond anyone else, it's not even a discussion.

The second biggest sports celebrity in Los Angeles isn't even an athlete. It's USC coach Pete Carroll. The third biggest L.A. sports celebrity has yet to even play a moment here: David Beckham.

There are no superstars on the Dodgers. Nomar Garciaparra and Jeff Kent are local boys who made good, but they don't get fans in a tizzy. The Angels have a superstar in Vladimir Guerrero, but after 11 seasons in the major leagues he is still uncomfortable speaking English and is locally more admired and respected than adulated.

The Clippers have Elton Brand, great guy but kinda quiet. The Ducks have Teemu Selanne and Chris Pronger, but most people here wouldn't recognize them at the lunch counter. Who is on the Kings?

Kobe is L.A.'s uncontested superstar. No one even approaches his celebrity, which is why you should believe the Lakers will never trade him.

Magic Johnson had to share his stage with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, meanwhile the Dodgers had Kirk Gibson, the Kings Wayne Gretzky, the Raiders Bo Jackson and the Rams Eric Dickerson.

Los Angeles has always had an abundance of superstars, but not now.

Now there is only Kobe, and people gravitate to him like few sports stars in history.

And it's not only because you never know when he might explode for 81. He hasn't always been perceived as a choirboy off the court.

There was his constant squabbling with Shaquille O'Neal and Phil Jackson, his adultery and sexual assault charges, giving up Shaq to police for infidelity, publicly accusing Karl Malone of hitting on his wife, and now trade demands.

Los Angeles can't get enough.

"Part of it is the soap opera," said David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute. "In L.A. we like a good story, a good celebrity-driven soap opera. "He's sports, pop culture, business and entertainment all wrapped into one. This past week, he wasn't just on the top of the sports page, but the front page."

Kobe's not just a great athlete, he's great theater. He's that small world we all live in at the work place with its problem personalities and prima donnas and massive dysfunction.

Only now we get to watch this played out on a grander scale, with more glitz and travails and speculation and angst. Come on, it's riveting stuff.

Southern California has watched Kobe grow since he first showed up a fresh-faced 18-year-old, all giddy to be in the NBA and playing in Los Angeles.

"People perceive that they have a relationship with Kobe," Carter said. "Between his proximity on the court, to having watched him grow, to his being such an icon.

"They think they can relate to Kobe, that they know what he's about, though I don't believe any of us really do."

They're all left wanting more. More Kobe greatness, more Kobe surprises, more Kobe on "Entertainment Tonight."

Sometimes you're huge for the wrong reasons. If little green men landed here today, they might scan headlines and figure Lindsay Lohan is our greatest actress.

Kobe, of course, is the most wondrous talent in the NBA. He's dynamic on the court and intriguing off it. He's the entire entertainment package, all while playing on our most popular team.

And he's a product of our easy-access times, when the Internet and tabloids and cable and newspapers all battle for more info than offered on a stat sheet. When Alex Rodriquez can walk down the street with a woman who's not his wife and it's instant scandal.

Kobe's past week not only commandeered local media, but his star is so bright, it almost had equal impact nationally. Even during the conference finals, his on-and-off trade demand was the NBA's dominant story until LeBron James exploded.

But he's L.A.'s supernova. Our No.-1-jersey-selling center of the sports universe. Our own phenomenon.

Through the years Los Angeles had has a plethora of superstars, but never one standing so alone. Never one it just could not get enough of.

stephen.dilbeck@dailynews.com

(818) 713-3607

CAPTION(S):

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Photo:

It seems as if L.A. just cannot get enough of Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant -- on or off the court.

Barry Gossage/Getty Images
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 3, 2007
Words:991
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