Bryant returns to court

Posted: Sunday, October 05, 2003

HONOLULU Kobe Bryant returned to the basketball court Saturday, admittedly out of shape and scared about what lies ahead for his family as his rape case proceeds.

After participating in a few drills with his Los Angeles Lakers teammates at training camp, the superstar guard said he considered not playing until his case is settled.

''Basketball to me just took a back seat, man,'' Bryant said in his first public comments since July 18, the day he was charged with sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman in Eagle, Colo.

Surrounded by a throng of media in a steamy gym at the University of Hawaii, Bryant decided about a month ago that he would play, a decision supported by his wife, Vanessa.

''You know, I have a job to do,'' Bryant said, dressed in a gold practice jersey and purple shorts, with a towel around his neck.

''This is my job, coming back to work,'' he said. ''My family and I, we've been dealing with this for a while now and we're going to continue to deal with it. I'm coming back to work and do what I do.''

Bryant is accused of raping a woman June 30 in his suite at a mountain resort where she worked. He has said the two had consensual sex. Free on $25,000 bond, Bryant is scheduled to appear Thursday in Eagle for a preliminary hearing to determine whether he will stand trial.

Bryant smiled occasionally as he spoke Saturday, although he mostly appeared serious.

Asked if he was scared about the case, he replied: ''Terrified.''

''Not so much for myself, but just for what my family is going through,'' Bryant said. ''They had nothing to do with this, but just because their names have been dragged in the mud I'm scared for them.''

Did Bryant feel more comfortable walking back into a gym?

''No,'' he replied. ''You know what? You can't imagine what it's like going through what I've gone through, still going through. I come out here to play, and this is my job, and I'm going to come out here and do it well.''

Bryant said his family was the main reason he considered sitting out.

''I just wanted to spend as much time as I can with my family,'' Bryant said. ''You go through something like this, you realize how important your family is, seeing my daughter grow up and being at home. Basketball to me is just a distant second.''

Bryant reported to training camp a day late, telling the team through his agent that he was ''under the weather.'' He refused to be more specific Saturday.

Bryant was asked if his experience with on-court pressure would help him deal with his off-court problems.

''In this environment, this world, people think a seventh game is pressure,'' he said, laughing. ''Are you kidding me?

''Playing the game of basketball is not difficult for me. Going through what we've been going through is difficult.''

During the offseason, Bryant underwent surgery on his right shoulder and had minor knee surgery the day after he is charged with committing the sexual assault.

He said stress affected him to the point where he couldn't train.

''I've got work to do,'' said Bryant, who spent part of Saturday's practice riding a stationary bike.

Bryant doesn't plan to speak with his teammates about his case.

''Why?'' he said. ''I could put it into words a million times, they'll never understand, they'll never get it. It doesn't matter. We'll come here, we'll work together as a team and we'll play the game.

''We're living through this,'' he said, referring to his family. ''Everybody else is just watching.''

What has his life been like?

''Like a roller coaster,'' he said. ''You have your good days, you have your bad days. At home, you have your worst days, then other days are great. Sometimes it doesn't seem like there's a light at the end of the tunnel. You pray, you have faith. The next thing you know, the light is brighter than ever.''

Bryant also said his life has ''been pretty crazy. My wife and I go out on a date and everybody overanalyzes it.''

Bryant was asked about what happened in Colorado.

''Are you serious?'' Bryant said, before walking away.

Bryant arrived in Honolulu late Friday night, and coach Phil Jackson hadn't had a chance to sit down with him for a one-on-one talk.

''This gym is not appropriate,'' Jackson said. ''It's too noisy. We'll wait until we have a space which is appropriate for it.''

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