The headlines have come unceasingly, as if a Kobe ticker were trawling across the bottom of America's TV screens. Unless you've avoided broadcast news, the Internet and the supermarket checkout line, you know the basics: The Lakers' previously spotless guard, Kobe Bryant, 24, is accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old concierge at an Edwards, Colo., resort on June 30 and charged with felony sexual assault, which carries a sentence of four years to life.
Bryant's July 18 public mea culpa—a teary press conference at which he sat by his wife of two years, Vanessa, and vowed that, though guilty of adultery, he is innocent of the criminal charges—seemed to heighten the tension between his supporters and detractors. Some in the pro-Kobe camp weren't generating much sympathy for their man. One website ran a picture of the alleged victim and invited visitors to rate her "hot-ness." Last Saturday the FBI acknowledged it has been investigating death threats against Eagle County district attorney Mark Hurlbert, who is prosecuting the case.
Most of the new information has centered on Bryant's accuser, a former cheerleader who tried out for American Idol last year. Her name was made public by a syndicated radio host, and the Globe supermarket tabloid ran a photo it claimed was of the alleged victim with her eyes obscured by a black strip. News leaks and interviews with named and unnamed sources, while sometimes stressing the essential honesty of the woman, created the portrait of a conflicted college student who, according to a police source, was hospitalized in February as a "danger to herself" after she attempted suicide with sleeping pills following a breakup with her boyfriend.
Some support for Bryant has been direct. One website—FreeKobe.com—began selling T-shirts featuring an Afro-bedecked basketball with a halo. The site, which does not identify the accuser, claims to get 2.2 million hits a day and says it is donating a portion of its revenue to "gender equity in sports." Of course, not all the information on the Internet is reliable. One website posted photos of the wrong woman: another 19-year-old from the same high school and with the same first name as the accuser. The misidentified woman's family has filed suit.
Bryant himself—who is due in Eagle County court for an Aug. 6 arraignment that will be televised live—has been mum, though his agent said Bryant would miss USA Basketball's Olympic qualifying tournament later this month as he recovers from shoulder surgery. Bryant also made news when he gave his wife a $4 million, eight-carat diamond ring, days after saying on television that he was sorry he had sex with the woman who claims she was assaulted. No one doubts that he is.