His insistence on normalcy is unnerving, as if the accusations of rape that require him to appear in a Colorado courtroom are simply troublesome, on the same scale as a nagging injury, say tendinitis. A day after he attended court in the Rocky Mountain town of Eagle, where a detective testified to the brutal assault of a 19-year-old hotel worker by me NBA superstar, Kobe Bryant was in the Lakers' training camp, pretending it was business as usual. "I've got to come to work, right?" he said. "No big deal."
Well...we'll see. His once golden life has been tarnished by a night of what he says was "consensual sex," possibly ruined if it's determined to have been rape. Last Thursday's unexpectedly graphic testimony in the preliminary hearing, at which a judge was to decide whether there is probable cause to order Bryant to trial on a sexual assault charge, only hinted at the ugliness that will surely follow.
Bryant's lawyers have chosen a scorched-earth defense. Going through with the hearing—the Bryant team could have waived its right to one and kept this testimony under wraps until trial (probably next year)—indicates how aggressive the defense will be. At the earliest opportunity Pamela Mackey, a Bryant attorney, attacked the complainant. Referring to photographs of the young woman's injury, Mackey asked in cross-examination if it was "consistent with a person who had sex with three different men in three days." That suggestion, which Mackey could not or was unwilling to back up, earned her a recess in the judge's chamber but pushed a promiscuous (and irrelevant) image of the complainant into the media.
As ugly as that was, it won't eclipse the testimony from a detective, who described what Bryant's accuser told him about the encounter: "Forced her to turn around, bent her over a chair, pulled her panties down and entered her from the rear." Asked the length of the encounter, the detective said, "Five minutes." The accuser also told the detective she was crying as Bryant moaned, 'I like Vail, Colorado."
That image will have a lot of hang time, and it is not one that will promote normalcy for Bryant or anyone in his vicinity. When the Lakers opened camp in Honolulu last week, they were met by an awesome array of media, probably five boom mikes per Laker. They may be jaded celebrity glamour-pusses, but this was certainly the first time the team had to issue a press credential to Entertainment Tonight for a preseason game with the Golden State Warriors. (Celebrity Justice's request for a credential, however, was denied.)
The team had hoped to be in the spotlight for its daring acquisitions of Karl Malone and Gary Payton, giving them, as the players would point out over and over, four future Hall of Famers at coach Phil Jackson's Zen-like disposal. Instead, with Bryant having missed the team plane to Hawaii (he showed up a day late), all questions were about the possibility that Jackson might have only three future Hall of Famers to deploy.
Shaquille O'Neal was weirdly playful, adopting a no-comment-by-acronym policy. 'CAT?' he said, when asked about Kobe's predicament. Huh? "Can't Answer That." Then he purred, as feline as anybody can be at 7'1". When Kobe did arrive (having been "under the weather," he said), he displayed a large tattoo on his right arm dedicated to his young wife, "my angel," and said he was "terrified" for his family. Though he would not discuss his legal problems, he did protest the accuracy of last week's Newsweek story, which said there was trouble in matrimonial paradise even before he visited Colorado. "You kidding me?" he said, as if the tattoo were proof enough.
He spoke briefly of his new pressures, which (along with rehab of his knee) seem to have prevented him from shooting so much as one basket in the off-season and to have left him 15 pounds lighter and out of shape to the extent that he could barely scrimmage. He suggested that his fame, now infamy, was troubling, and he pined for a life without "everybody making up rumors." But he intended to forge ahead. "Do I look like a quitter?"
Three days later, at the Lakers' media day back in Los Angeles, Bryant was similarly steadfast, almost blas�. He deflected questions about the hearing and the graphic news it generated, except to say the back-and-forth from the Lakers to the courtroom posed no problem. "I go out, take care of business, come back, take care of business here."
His teammates, even after hearing details of Bryant's alleged behavior, professed a combination of support and ignorance. Shaq said he missed most of the news, on account of being glued to SpongeBob, but that, all the same, he intended to be Bryant's "pillow, his comforter" Others said the legal process would grind on without undue Lakers participation or worry.