The announcement was chilling. The words simply couldn't be right. Rape. Assault. Felony. But this was not a mistake. Kobe Bryant was being charged with a serious crime. On July 3, 2003, Bryant was charged in Colorado's Eagle County with sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman on June 30, an offense that could result in a prison term of four years to life.
Disbelief about Bryant's situation led to doubt and questions. Bryant had a gorgeous wife, Vanessa, who had just given birth to the couple's first child, a girl, just a few months earlier.
But according to police reports, these were the facts: At 10 p.m., on June 30, Bryant, accompanied by three friends, checked into the Lodge & Spa at Cordillera, a $300-a-night, 56-room resort located halfway between the small town of Eagle and the ski resort of Vail.
Bryant was scheduled to have arthroscopic surgery on his right knee at the Steadman Hawkins Clinic in Vail on the morning of July 1. Working at was the alleged victim, who reportedly spoke and flirted with Bryant. Then, between 11:13 p.m. and midnight, she went to Bryant's room. While there, the alleged sexual assault occurred.
The next morning, as Bryant underwent surgery, the woman and her parents went to the Eagle County Sheriff's Department to lodge the assault complaint against Bryant. Bryant was interviewed by investigators the night of July 1 and voluntarily provided DNA samples at a hospital the following morning.
On July 3, Eagle County's sheriff obtained an arrest warrant from a district judge without Eagle County District Attorney Mark Hurlbert signing off on it, and the next day, July 4, Bryant was summoned back to Colorado to turn himself in.
After being booked, Bryant posted a $25,000 bond and was released. For more than a week, Bryant was in hiding. Finally, he emerged, going to an awards show with his wife, smiling and waving to fans.
Several weeks later, on Friday, July 19, 2003, Hurlbert held a news conference outside the justice center and said Bryant will be charged with sexual assault.
Four hours later, at Staples Center in Los Angeles, Bryant holds his own news conference. The press room is packed with media. Standing room only. There is a row of cameras stretching from one wall to the other.
Bryant emerges from an adjacent room and enters holding hands with his wife. Following closely behind are Bryant's attorneys, Pamela Mackey and Hal Haddon. They sit. The room is tense. Bryant stares at the microphone in front of him. His eyes glisten. He bites his lip. There is near silence in the room. The only sound is that of cameras clicking.
Tears well up in Bryant's eyes. As he begins to speak, his voice quivers. "I'm innocent," he says softly but defiantly. He shakes his head and shifts uncomfortably in his seat as he holds his wife's hand. He purses his lips and says, "I didn't force [the accuser] to do anything against her will. I'm innocent."
He pauses, biting his lip again, his face illustrating anger. "I sit here in front of you furious at myself, disgusted at myself for making the mistake of adultery."
His words are strong, disturbing. He is so infuriated at himself, embarrassed for being so irresponsible. To have put himself in a situation like this, to put his life and career in jeopardy. Bryant squeezes his wife's hands. She gently strokes his arm as she stares into eyes. Vanessa looks away for a beat, sitting there in front of the world, exasperated over this three-week nightmare. Bryant stares at his wife. She turns back to him.
Bryant's wife clasps his right hand in both of her hands, tightly. He gazes into her eyes, apologetically, and tells her, in front of the entire world, "You're a blessing. You're a piece of my heart. You're the air I breathe. You're the strongest person I know and I'm so sorry for having to put you through this, and having to put our family through this."
She does not smile. Her eyes reflect sadness and betrayal, but also a feeling for her husband, knowing what he is going through, having to admit his guilt of adultery, in front of the world.
There are no Laker officials on the dais. No Phil Jackson, the Lakers' coach. None of Bryant's Lakers teammates. He is, essentially, all by himself.
Bryant's attorneys replicate his expression and tone of determination. Mackey says sternly and angrily, "Mr. Bryant is falsely accused of an extremely serious crime, a crime which carries with it the potential of a life sentence. No prosecutor should file charges unless the evidence is so strong that it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The evidence in this case falls far, far short of that standard."
For everyone in the audience, it is stunning to see Bryant, publicly admitting to an indiscretion. He turns again to his wife, his remorse turning to resolve. "My wife and I, and my family, we are going to fight these false accusations," he says. "We have a lot at stake. I have a lot at stake and it has nothing to do with the game of basketball. It has nothing to do with endorsements. Nothing at all. This is about us. This is about our family. ... Shoulder to shoulder, we are going to fight this all the way to the end."