Kobe 'upset' about Malone's comments to wife

The Kobe Bryant-Karl Malone feud has turned personal, with Bryant accusing Malone of making a pass at his wife at a Lakers game.

Rob Pelinka, the agent for Bryant, told ESPN.com on Sunday night that Malone made "several inappropriate comments" to Bryant's wife, Vanessa, on Nov. 23 at a Los Angeles Lakers home game against the Milwaukee Bucks.

"Kobe and Karl had a true friendship, much more than teammates," Pelinka said. "Their wives are quite friendly as well. Kobe has told me that he feels very hurt and betrayed by what has happened."

Malone, in Arkansas working at his logging farm, declined to address accusations by Bryant.

"Misery loves company," Malone told USA Today in Tuesday's edition. "This is a Hollywood soap opera, and I'm not going to be a star in another Bryant soap opera."

Malone also said his wife, Kay, responded privately by letter Monday to the Bryants and Lakers owner Jerry Buss.

Bryant said to reporters before Sunday night's game against Orlando, "The comments that [Malone] said, I don't know any man in this room that wouldn't be upset about that. The past month, myself, my wife, [Malone's wife] Kay, we've had fun together. We've been out to their house, just joking around, giving each other a hard time, just clowning, being sarcastic with one another, baby-sitting kids and all that."

Asked if there could have been a misunderstanding, Bryant said, "What he said is what he said. I believe in my heart that it wasn't a misunderstanding. My wife wasn't going to stand for it. She felt uncomfortable being around him to the point that she felt she had to call his wife and tell her."

Bryant said Malone didn't deny making the comments and told him during their phone conversation, "Aw, you know, I'm sorry if I said anything that was out of line." Added Bryant, "He was like a mentor, like a brother to me, so when something like that happens, you're upset, you're hurt."

Malone's agent, Dwight Manley, told the Los Angeles Times on Sunday that Malone was asked by Vanessa Bryant, "Hey, cowboy, what are you hunting?" in reference to Malone wearing a cowboy hat and boots.

"She said it twice," Manley said, "and Karl answered, 'I'm hunting for little Mexican girls.' "

Manley said Malone told him he had never made a pass at Bryant's wife, that he was surprised by the accusation, and that he then apologized to both Bryant and his wife for any remarks she might have considered inappropriate.

"Karl's response to Kobe's comments today is that he's a basketball player and not a soap opera actor and he doesn't intend to be involved in a personal soap opera," Manley said of his client.

Pelinka, who works for SFX and has been Bryant's agent for four years, said he was told what transpired last month by Kobe and Vanessa Bryant.

"Karl and his son were at the game sitting in the front row," Pelinka said. "Vanessa was on the cell phone talking to Karl's wife, Kay, and Vanessa said that her son looked bored. Kay told her to call Karl to have her son join her in her seats. Kay gave Vanessa Karl's cell number and she called him. When she called, Karl's response was, 'Why don't you come over here and sit next to me and give me a big hug?' Vanessa said, 'Why? For what?' And Karl replied, 'If you do that it will be on the cover of every magazine in the country.'

"Vanessa didn't know what to say because this was the first time she had ever spoken to Malone without Kobe or Kay being around. Karl continued. 'Do you like me?' Malone asked her, to which Vanessa said, 'As my friend, Kay's husband,' " Pelinka said.

"From there Malone asked Vanessa if she could keep a secret, and that he would like to tell her something. At which point Vanessa told him she was a married woman and he was a married man who was old enough to be her father. To which Malone replied, 'Oh, like your daddy?' At that point she told me she ended the conversation," Pelinka said.

In the second half of the game, Malone sent his son to sit with the Bryants.

"Vanessa told me that she just was very uncomfortable at halftime and that Karl was acting and saying weird things." said Pelinka. "When the game ended, Vanessa walked Malone's son back to Karl. She told me that she asked Malone why he was wearing that [cowboy] hat. His response was, 'I'm hunting for young Mexican girls.' At which point Vanessa just walked away."

On the car ride home, Vanessa Bryant told Kobe what had happened. Vanessa decided to call Kay Malone and tell her about the way her husband had spoken to her. After they hung up, Kobe Bryant called Karl Malone on his cell phone.

"Kobe told me that Karl just listened and didn't deny any of it. Kobe said Karl's only reply was, 'You know me, man.' To which Kobe told him, 'That's right, I do know you -- and stay away from my wife,' " said Pelinka. "The next day, with all four of them on the phone, Karl denied it. At that point the Bryants knew that there was nothing left to talk about since they knew Karl wasn't telling the truth. Vanessa told me that she told Kay that she [Vanessa] wanted her [Kay] to know 'just exactly what your husband [Karl] did, and you do what you want with the information.' "

Last week Bryant said in a radio interview on XTRA that it was his intuition that Malone would retire. That comment led Malone to reply that he did not want to be a distraction to the Lakers and blamed Bryant for the rift.

According to Bryant, Malone told him before the season started that he was going to retire and spend more time with his family. Bryant said that Malone asked him not to speak publicly about his decision. Malone has been recovering from knee surgery and had told the Lakers that if he was going to return to play it would be with them.

On the outside of the drama this time, Miami Heat center Shaquille O'Neal was amazed at this story.

"I'm very surprised how it came out, but I've never seen anything like that before," O'Neal told the Miami Herald. "I thought him and Karl were best friends. Karl was always the liaison between me and that guy. I was under the impression they were closer than what they were."

O'Neal said he would be surprised if Malone did anything inappropriate.

"He's a legend," O'Neal said. "And if you don't like Karl Malone, there's something wrong with you."

With a return to the Lakers likely out of the question, other teams are pursuing Malone, beginning with the San Antonio Spurs. Over the past weekend, Manley contacted the Spurs, hoping to arrange a meeting with Malone and Gregg Popovich, the Spurs' coach and executive vice-president, the San Antonio Express-News reported Tuesday.

"It's up to Karl to decide what he is going to do and with whatever team," Popovich said. "I'm just waiting, trying to be patient, and seeing what he wants to do. When he's ready to start talking to people about wanting to play, I will be ready to talk to him.

Manley spoke Sunday with Spurs general manager R.C. Buford and with director of basketball operations Danny Ferry.

"Everything was just very general, that's all," Ferry said. "There were no specifics talked about. It was just setting up an opportunity for Pop and Karl to talk."

No date or time has been scheduled for such a talk.

"I don't want to talk to anybody but Karl. I don't need to talk to Manley or anybody else," he said. "I gave that job up a couple years ago. R.C. and Danny can handle that part."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.