Kobe Bryant’s on-court accomplishments for the Lakers speak for themselves. Just as clear was his devotion to his wife, Vanessa, and four daughters.
Yet one major off-the-court hit to Bryant’s reputation took place June 30, 2003, in a hotel room at the Lodge & Spa at Cordillera in the Rocky Mountains town of Edwards, Colo. A 19-year-old woman working as the front-desk clerk accompanied Bryant on a tour of the property. She later went to Bryant’s hotel room, where she said he raped her.
Bryant, 24 at the time, was charged with one count of felony assault. It took 14 months for the criminal case to be resolved. The accuser decided she would not testify, and prosecutors dropped the case Sept. 1, 2004. A civil suit brought by the accuser in August 2004 was settled out of court on March 2, 2005, marking the end of an often-graphic legal saga that drew worldwide attention but never resulted in a trial.
Two weeks after the civil suit was settled, Bryant, who died Sunday along with eight other people in a helicopter crash at the age of 41, was asked by Times columnist J.A. Adande whether he was concerned about his image.
“Um, no,” Bryant said. “No and yes. It’s important that the image that’s out there is the real image of who I am as a person, not something that’s fabricated, not something that’s gossip, you know what I’m saying? From that standpoint, I care about it.
“It’s just about you doing what is right. I think it’ll all come out sooner or later. There’s a lot of [charitable] stuff I’ve done in the past that I will continue to do that I don’t want credit for. I don’t want any. Because I don’t feel like that’s something that should be publicized.
“I hope, one day, people will look back on my career and see everything that I’ve been through, everything that my fans have been through . . . and I just stayed steady. I didn’t wig out. I just stayed steady, I stayed professional.
“At the end of the day, when it’s my last year, people can look back and say, ‘You know what? He had a hell of a career, he was a hell of a person.’”
At first, events in Colorado unfolded quickly for Bryant. The day after the alleged rape, he underwent knee surgery in nearby Vail. Bryant’s accuser reported the incident to the Eagle County Sheriff’s Department, and investigators searched his hotel room for evidence.
The accuser had a medical examination that eventually became problematic for her because DNA evidence suggested she had sex with someone else in the 15 hours after the alleged rape and before the exam — a claim denied by prosecutors.
Bryant was charged with one count of felony sexual assault July 18. Bryant, with his wife, Vanessa, by his side, held a news conference at Staples Center, where he admitted committing adultery but said “I’m innocent” of assault.
Nearly a year of discovery and pretrial hearings took place before Bryant entered a plea of not guilty May 11, 2004. As the case slowly moved toward a trial, the accuser’s resolve began to weaken after she added libel attorney Lin Wood to her legal team. Wood believed a criminal trial would not end well for her. The accuser also appeared unprepared during a mock trial a week before jury selection was to begin, according to several people close to the prosecution.
Another factor in the woman’s decision to ask prosecutors to drop the case was mistakes by the tiny court in Eagle, Colo., that her attorneys said caused her to lose faith in the judicial system. Her name was mistakenly released to the media three times (by policy, The Times never published it), and a sealed transcript of a closed hearing on DNA evidence was emailed to seven media outlets, including The Times.
In the transcripts, a DNA expert detailed evidence bolstering the defense’s contention that Bryant’s accuser had sex with someone else soon after the alleged rape, which the defense said could have caused the accuser’s vaginal bruising and lacerations.
Meanwhile, Bryant continued his career with the Lakers. He played in 65 games during the 2003-2004 season, averaging 24 points per game. On several occasions, he played in games and then took a private jet to the airport in Eagle a few blocks from the courthouse.
Bryant never spoke publicly about the case after the July 2003 news conference, although he did issue the following statement on the day the criminal case was dismissed:
“First, I want to apologize directly to the young woman involved in this incident. I want to apologize to her for my behavior that night and for the consequences she has suffered in the past year. Although this year has been incredibly difficult for me personally, I can only imagine the pain she has had to endure.
“I also want to apologize to her parents and family members, and to my family and friends and supporters, and to the citizens of Eagle, Colorado. I also want to make it clear that I do not question the motives of this young woman. No money has been paid to this woman. She has agreed that this statement will not be used against me in the civil case.
“Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.
“I issue this statement today fully aware that while one part of this ends today, another remains. I understand that the civil case against me will go forward. That part of this case will be decided by and between the parties directly involved in the incident and will no longer be a financial or emotional drain on the citizens of the state of Colorado.”
Over time, Bryant’s reputation rebounded because he gave every appearance of being a loving husband and father to Vanessa and their daughters.
Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, was also aboard the helicopter that crashed Sunday near Calabasas and killed all nine passengers. He is survived by his wife, Vanessa, and daughters Natalia, Capri and Bianka.