Debate rages in Bryant's hometownPosted: Wednesday July 23, 2003 1:25 AM
Updated: Wednesday July 23, 2003 1:25 AM
NARBERTH, Pa. (AP) -- Kobe Bryant started a fight Saturday night at the Arcadia Chios Tavern, a neighborhood watering hole not far from the high school where he played basketball as a teenager.
As bartender Bill Kelly tells it, a woman at one end of the pub said Bryant was probably guilty of charges that he sexually assaulted a 19-year-old girl. A guy sitting a few stools down figured it differently.
"There was some name calling. The woman's boyfriend got involved. There was some pushing and shoving," Kelly said. "Pretty soon, there's five guys wrestling on the floor under that table."
Arguments about basketball are nothing new at the Arcadia, known locally as "The Greeks," but discussion about Bryant's sexual assault case in Colorado can come with an edge here in the NBA star's hometown.
The house where Bryant spent his teen years, and which his mother still owns, is within walking distance. Bryant's high school coach is a regular. The tavern is just a few blocks from suburban Philadelphia's hottest streetball court and in the evenings its tables fill with amateur coaches and scouts who saw Bryant play at nearby Lower Merion High School.
"People have their opinions, but I think if you ask most people who come in here, they really hope he is going to come out of this OK," Kelly said. "They care a lot about Kobe here."
Among many in Lower Merion Township, it's gospel that he must have been an innocent victim of a girl with loose morals, possibly out for fame or fortune.
Summer school students streaming out of Lower Merion High on Monday afternoon said classrooms have been abuzz with talk of Kobe. Bryant scored 2,883 points in four seasons there and led the team to a state basketball crown. The school retired his number, 33, in 2002.
Almost everyone, 16-year-old Colin Peters said, thinks Bryant is innocent. Few think his star has been tarnished, even though he's admitted to at least committing adultery.
"They think the woman's out for money," said Peters, who was on Lower Merion's freshman basketball team last winter. "I think they'll find him innocent. I can't see him being taken away from basketball."
Jeremy Lewis, 17, who will be a senior in the Lower Merion School District's second high school, Harriton High, said he hadn't spoken to anyone yet who thought Bryant was guilty, except for an aunt.
"She said that he's an athlete, and has a big head, and probably thinks he can get whatever he wants," said Lewis, a quarterback on Harriton's football team.
The Philadelphia area has long had a love-hate relationship with Bryant, and the sexual assault case has added another wrinkle. Some people here haven't forgiven him for turning pro after high school instead of going to a local college, like Villanova, Temple or La Salle, where his dad was an assistant coach. Philadelphians also haven't forgotten that he helped lead the Lakers to a championship over the 76ers in 2001.
Fans booed Bryant relentlessly when he played in he NBA All-Star game in Philadelphia in 2002. Mention his name in a South Philadelphia sports bar and people will quickly remind you: Bryant lived much of his childhood in Italy, not the United States, and he played his high school ball in a wealthy suburb, not the city.
Even in Lower Merion, there are those who have their doubts about Bryant's squeaky-clean image. Many of them are young women.
"I think the situation is a little shady, actually," said Christine Wallingford, 15, who was hanging out in downtown Ardmore on Monday. "He's probably done this before, and this is just the first time he's been caught."
Susan Vanderhei, 15, said she thinks Bryant probably is guilty too, but, like others here, can't imagine that he'll be held accountable.
"Hasn't this happened with other celebrities? Nothing ever happens to them. It just gets written about in the newspapers, and that's all," she said.