"What I said last night should not be taken literally," Bryant said in a statement. "My actions were out of frustration during the heat of the game, period. The words expressed do NOT reflect my feelings towards the gay and lesbian communities and were NOT meant to offend anyone."
Bryant was irritated after receiving his 15th technical foul of the season and yelled out at referee Bennie Adams.
The TNT telecast captured Bryant's outburst during the Lakers' 102-93 victory. He pounded his seat on the bench before sitting, threw a towel and then yelled "Bennie!" before appearing to mutter the homophobic slur. TNT announcer Steve Kerr said on the air, "You might want to take the cameras off of him right now, for the children watching from home."
Bryant was criticized by Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization.
"What a disgrace for Kobe Bryant to use such horribly offensive and distasteful language, especially when millions of people are watching," the HRC said in a statement. "Hopefully Mr. Bryant will recognize that as a person with such fame and influence, the use of such language not only offends millions of LGBT people around the world, but also perpetuates a culture of discrimination and hate that all of us, most notably Mr. Bryant, should be working to eradicate. Bryant and the Lakers have a responsibility to speak up on this issue immediately. America is watching."
Bryant's outburst is also being reviewed by the NBA and could draw a fine.
If Bryant picks up a 16th technical foul tonight in a regular-season finale against Sacramento, he will be suspended for the Lakers' opener next season.