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Witten eyes record after spleen injury, slow start

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Witten eyes record after spleen injury, slow start

IRVING, Texas (AP) Jason Witten had nearly as many drops as catches through three games this season, back when his side still hurt just about every time he moved because of a lacerated spleen.

The Dallas Cowboys tight end dismissed any suggestion that the injury had anything to do with an uncharacteristic case of stone hands. The seven-time Pro Bowler didn't really even want to say how long it took to feel normal again once he decided to play in the season opener just 23 days after getting hurt in a preseason game.

Coach Jason Garrett puts it somewhere around a month into the season, which is about the time Witten started a career-best stretch so prolific that he has two games to get the six catches needed to break Tony Gonzalez's tight end record of 102 in a season. Witten could get it Sunday at home against New Orleans (6-8).

``You know, we talked about him saying, `I'm playing in that Giant game,' after he had the lacerated spleen, and I'm thinking to myself, `This guy's crazy,''' Garrett said. ``He wasn't quite himself for probably three or four weeks after that. I think we all saw that. And then for him to kind of, `OK, I'm feeling better now' and get back to what he's been doing, I think he's had a remarkable year.''

Witten turned 30 in May, and once he made it through that opener against New York, it was easy to forget about the injury as he stumbled through two more games and reached Week 4 with five drops, four penalties and eight catches. Too old already? Hall of Fame career nearing an end?

Hardly. In the past 11 games, he has 89 catches for 847 yards and two touchdowns, including his first scoring hookup with Tony Romo in last weekend's 27-24 overtime win against Pittsburgh that put the Cowboys (8-6) in control of their playoff fate with two games left.

Witten reset his franchise record with 18 catches in a loss to the Giants in October, and a week later broke Michael Irvin's career Cowboys record of 750 receptions. With 793 catches, Witten is likely this year to join Gonzalez and Shannon Sharpe as the only tight ends with 800, and he's third behind those two with 8,832 yards. Gonzalez set the single-season mark for catches in 2004.

``I have so much respect for the game and this position,'' Witten said. ``To be able to be even thinking about passing that kind of record that's stood the course for almost 10 years by the greatest tight end that ever played, to break that, no question it's special. I think you're more proud of the body of work over the course of 10 years than you are just one season.''

Witten was part of Bill Parcells' first Cowboys draft class in 2003. He played in 15 games, with seven starts, as a rookie, and missed the only game of his career with a broken jaw. Barring injury, he's about to complete his sixth straight season of starting every game.

That streak was in serious jeopardy after he took a hard blind-side hit on a broken play in a preseason game at Oakland. It was easy to rule him out for the opener after the diagnosis because the Cowboys started the season three days earlier than everyone else and had 10 days to get ready for Week 2.

Witten thought otherwise, even with his old-school former coach whispering in his ear about taking it easy during a phone call.

``He was like my dad: `Take care of yourself now. Be smart,''' said Witten, a bit bemused. ``Remember, this guy, 10 years ago when I had the broken jaw, it didn't seem like that was the same response.''

The Cowboys were just happy to have him on the field against the Giants, so some balky play and two catches for 10 yards didn't faze anyone. He four catches against the Seahawks, but had the same number of drops, then two catches again, this time for just 8 yards, against Tampa Bay.

Witten finally broke loose with 13 catches for 112 yards and a garbage-time touchdown from Kyle Orton in a blowout loss to the Bears.

``I've never thought, `Well, I'm about to taper off here, let's see if I can hang on,''' Witten said. ``It's always been it gets higher every year. And going into this year, that's what it was.''

With or without a lacerated spleen.

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Remembering Kobe Bryant's 55-point game in his last matchup against Michael Jordan

Remembering Kobe Bryant's 55-point game in his last matchup against Michael Jordan

As the basketball world mourns the death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, memories of his career and the highlights that made us fall in love with him are surfacing. One of the most well-told narratives of Bryant’s 20-year career was his pursuit of Michael Jordan as the greatest player of all-time. 

Bryant idolized Jordan and was relentless in his pursuit of at least matching Jordan’s six championships. He competed like Jordan, scored like Jordan, berated teammates and opponents alike like Jordan and came up one title short of his idol’s total.

On one night, however, Bryant did get the best of His Airness -- in their last of eight head-to-head matchups. 

On March 28, 2003, a Friday night in Los Angeles, Bryant put on a show, scoring 55 points in what would stand as his highest scoring total ever against the Washington Wizards.

The Lakers defeated the Wizards, 108-94. Jordan, who had just turned 40 that February and was less than a month from ending his legendary career, finished with a team-high 23 points in over 40 minutes.

Bryant was in a different zone, though, dropping 42 points in the first half alone. Through the first two quarters, he made 14 of 19 shots from the field, including 8 of 11 three-point attempts. While he cooled off in the second half, shooting just 1-for-10, he added to his point total by knocking down 10 free throws. The performance stands as the ninth-highest scoring total of Bryant’s career, and his three-point shooting that night -- 9-of-13 -- is the biggest reason the Wizards are the only team he shot over 40 percent from three against in his career.

Going into that game, Bryant was already a three-time NBA champion at 24 years old and seemed to have gained Jordan’s respect as a player. But Jordan may have inadvertendly fueled Bryant's performance that night. Ex-Wizard Gilbert Arenas told a story on "The No Chill Podcast" of MJ telling Bryant he could never fill his shoes after the Wizards defeated the Lakers earlier in the season. Arenas claims Bryant didn't talk to his teammates for two weeks leading up to the rematch -- he internalized the jab from Jordan and turned it into the 55-point game he put up against the Wizards.

After learning of Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash on Sunday, Jordan released a statement through his spokeswoman saying Bryant was like a little brother to him.

“I am in shock over the tragic news of Kobe’s and Gianna’s passing. Words can’t describe the pain I’m feeling," the statement read. "I loved Kobe -- he was like a little brother to me. We used to talk often, and I will miss those conversations very much. He was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force. Kobe was also an amazing dad who loved his family deeply -- and took pride in his daughter’s love for the game of basketball. Yvette joins me in sending my deepest condolences to to Vanessa, the Lakers organization and basketball fans around the world.”


Jordan and Bryant exchanged some fun and memorable banter in not only that game but in several of their meetings towards the latter part of Jordan’s career. Just a month earlier, the two went head-to-head in the 2003 All-Star Game. Each started, and clocked 36 minutes, in the double-overtime game, Bryant scoring 22 points for the winning Western Conference, Jordan scoring 20 for the East.

Bryant actually finished his career with a 5-3 head-to-head record against Jordan -- four of those matchups coming against the Wizards. Jordan averaged 24.5 points in those games and Bryant averaged 22.8 points. Whether Bryant actually surpassed Jordan or other legends as the greatest basketball player is debatable, but most agree that Bryant’s style and how he approached the game was as close to Jordan as any other player.

There was no better example of this than that March night in 2003.

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Rui Hachimura says, 'Kobe was a hero for me'

Rui Hachimura says, 'Kobe was a hero for me'

Kobe Bryant's popularity stretched far beyond the United States. He was a global icon and especially loved in Asia. 

Following the NBA star's shocking death on Sunday, the entire sports world grieved and shared fond memories of Bryant all over social media. 

Rui Hachimura grew up in Japan idolizing Bryant, so he took to Twitter a day after the accident to share his thoughts on his hero.  

"I was very shocked to hear of this incident," Hachimura said. "I really can't believe it. I can't speak. Kobe is also a hero to me, and I've seen [him] a lot since I was little. I have met him only once.

"Three years ago, during [the] Final 4, [Bryant gave] a special pair of shoes as a surprise to the team," he said. "Not only that, he talked about what Mamba Mentality is and what people should be before basketball players. 

"He was more than just a basketball player," he said. "It is really sad that this accident was like this. I wish good luck to his family and those who have been involved in this accident. Thanks, Kobe."

After Michael Jordan retired, Bryant became the most popular player in Japan. Along with Hachimura, he inspired players like Grizzlies forward Yuta Watanabe to play the game of basketball in the first place. 

Similar to what made Bryant so popular in the United States, Japan loved him for his tireless work ethic and killer instinct on the court. That's what earned him 15 All-NBA selections and five NBA titles, and along with his efforts off the court post-retirement, earned him the love and respect of so many people around the world. 

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