Marina High School was afire Friday with word that one of its own, Vanessa Laine, is preparing to marry the man who may be Southern California’s most eligible bachelor: Kobe Bryant.
The Laker superstar, 21, confirmed after practice Thursday that he is engaged to the 18-year-old Marina High senior.
A day later, the inevitable television vans swarmed the school, going live, interviewing students who unwittingly strolled off campus for lunch. Overhead, a television helicopter recorded video footage.
Rumors sprang up: She will now be home-schooled (true); they are going to skip the prom in June (probably true); they are going to Italy instead (unconfirmed); the school has asked her to stop wearing her seven-carat engagement ring (not true). And there were tales, many of them, of Kobe sightings. Most of them went something like this, from junior Erika McWilliams:
“I met him. I swear. I saw his forehead when he came to pick her up at school. I was all: Whoa! And I ran up to the car and I was all: Omigod! And he was all: Hi! And I was all: It’s all about Kobe! I was shaking.”
At the modest home in Huntington Beach where Laine lives with her grandparents, her grandfather sighed heavily as a reporter approached the door.
Yes, Robert Laine said, they are engaged. No, they probably will not be going to the prom, though they had considered it. Yes, she has been taken out of school “because of the notoriety.” And yes, she is thrilled.
“When you are young, you are very idealistic,” he said. “She seems happy.”
And then, of course, there is The Ring. The Rock.
Even Marina High School Principal Carol Osbring, who remained tight-lipped about the mania, refusing to utter Vanessa Laine’s name, was marveling at the ring.
“All the diamonds I’m used to seeing are little things you kind of flick in the sun,” she said.
Not this one. Not unless you want to go blind. Seven carats, according to Sandy Fredlund, manager of an Orange County Zales jewelry store, is the size of a nickel, maybe even a quarter, and probably cost about $100,000.
“I was thinking about that ring all the way into work this morning,” Fredlund said. “The largest thing I have in my store is a two-carat. And that’s big. This is huge.”
The couple met when Bryant, who likes rap and videos, stopped by a music video shoot where Laine was working as a background model, according to Marina High drama teacher Robert Rotenberry.
Laine, who turned 18 recently, is active in Marina’s theater club but has no aspirations to be a professional actress. Rotenberry described her as “very pleasant, very nice, extra-outgoing.”
She has completed advanced math classes, such as algebra II, and diligently went about her work as a teacher’s aide, according to teachers for whom she ran errands and took roll call. She is an aspiring makeup artist and a periodic video model.
“She’s a pretty cool chick,” said Ricky Avila, 17, a junior who shared a math class with her.
According to acquaintances, a photo of the couple kissing is affixed to the binder that holds her class notes.
“She never showed off. She said to me once, ‘Here’s a picture of my boyfriend,’ and I looked at it and thought, ‘I know that guy,’ ” Rotenberry said. “She was just really proud of him.”
Family and friends are working hard to protect Laine’s privacy. Her grandfather is hoping the attention will fade soon.
Still, his granddaughter’s life is about to change forever. Bryant, who is in his fourth year with the Lakers after making the leap from high school directly to the NBA, recently signed a six-year contract extension reportedly worth $70 million.
The contract will take him through the 2004-05 season, when he will be 26. She will be 23.
“There’s nobody in [the school] who isn’t talking about it,” said Graham Finochio, 16, a junior. “We all heard about it for a while: Yeah, Kobe Bryant is going out with this chick, and he sends her flowers and stuff. And I was like: Yeah, right. And then it turns out to be true! And I was like: Whoa, dude!”
Times staff writer Rene Lynch contributed to this story.