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Players Reflect on Lockout, Jordan

Kobe Bryant and Robert Horry smiled readily Sunday night in their first appearance at the Forum since late May.

The atmosphere wasn't nearly so pleasant during their last visit, and due to the NBA lockout, there's no telling when they'll be back again.

Bryant was an assistant coach to actress Vivica A. Fox, and Horry was a player in the 13th annual Midsummer Night's Magic -- a charity basketball game staged by former Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson.

The previous 12 raised over $10 million in scholarship funds for deserving students throughout the country.

"Too old to play," Bryant, who turns 20 in three weeks, responded with a grin when asked why he was coaching.

The dapper beige suit he wore would put the attire of most coaches to shame.

The Lakers cleaned out their lockers on Memorial Day after the Utah Jazz completed a sweep of the Western Conference finals a day earlier.

A month later, in a draft-day trade, they swapped All-Star point guard Nick Van Exel to Denver for forward Tony Battie and rookie point guard Tyronn Lue, a first-round pick from Nebraska.

"I think it was time for a change," Bryant said. "We're going to be better in the long run. It was a change that had to be made, it was a change for the better."

Said Horry: "We kind of knew that was going to happen. Nick's a good guard, hopefully we can find somebody to replace him. How hard is it to throw it into Shaq, get me a few shots on the wing?

"Just kidding," Horry quickly added. "It's a business, I've been traded, a lot of guys have been traded. I think we'll be better - a year older, a year smarter."

Both Bryant and Horry said the stalemate between owners and players will be worked out.

"I'm optimistic about it," Bryant said. "Hopefully, we'll start the preseason (in October) on time. Right now, it's still early. I think both sides are stuck in their ways -- like two lions clashing head-to-head."

The two sides announced last week they will meet Thursday for the first time since the lockout began July 1.

"I know everything will work out," Horry said. "They really haven't had a chance to talk. They don't want to do the same thing baseball did."

Horry referred to the 1994 strike that caused cancellation of the World Series and extended into the 1995 season.

Among others who played Sunday night were Sacramento's Chris Webber, Golden State's Jimmy Jackson, Atlanta's Steve Smith, Milwaukee's Ray Allen, Boston's Antoine Walker and Utah's Bryon Russell.

Russell was booed in pregame introductions, no doubt due to what happened in the Western Conference finals.

"I'm optimistic," Jackson said concerning the stalemate. "It's not going to get serious until there's something at stake, when it's closer to the season. That's the bad thing about it. We as players have to stand together. I think the unity is better than it's ever been."

Said Smith: "We're going to play, I don't know when we're going to play, but we're definitely going to play. We're being locked out, but we're not giving in. I'm hopeful; both sides want basketball, both sides need the game."

The opinions on the future of Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan were varied. Jordan has stated he wouldn't play for any other coach than Phil Jackson, and it appears unlikely Jackson will return to the Bulls next season, whenever it begins. However, Jordan hasn't made a final announcement on his status.

"He ain't going nowhere, I don't think," Horry said. "I hope not. He better not go anywhere, he makes the game more exciting."

"Selfishly, for the NBA, speaking as a player, we want him back," Smith said. "The earlier (the stalemate) gets solved, the better the chances are of his playing next season."

"I hope he does play, although he has nothing to prove," Allen said. "Everybody knows that. I guess it'll come down to what does the season has to offer for Michael. He'll have a new coach. Michael has said it and I feel the same way -- Michael has to go on and do other things."

"I'd like to see him stay and play," Jackson said. "He brings so much to the game. I don't know - that's the $1 million question."

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