Sun, Jul 20, 2003 - Page 24 News List

NBA's teenagers may learn lesson from Kobe's flaw

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Soon the 14 teenagers selected in last month's NBA draft will be lectured in league seminars about temptation and traps, restraint and repercussions.

But who among those about to enter the most immature of big-time pro leagues -- where arrested development can be disguised by a meticulously polished image -- will resist the siren's song of their instant access.

In essence, this is when urgent gratification meets entitlement to form an immediacy for a player to indulge, when an internal "Hot Now" sign a la Krispy Kreme cues a craving for sugar.

All a player has to do is pick up a phone to order up a little excitement on the road.

What lovely lady would turn down a date with levitating greatness; what starry-eyed woman wouldn't line up for a chance to "Love It Live," as the NBA slogan goes.

"Everyone looks available to them," one Eastern Conference general manager once said on the topic. "All it takes is one error in judgment. They're warned, but do they listen?"

With their teenage attention spans as fragile as gum bubbles, do they retain anything? Just a few years ago, the Lakers' worldly, multilingual Jordan facsimile, Kobe Bryant, sat through the league's rookie indoctrination. Was Kobe doodling?

Whatever occurred between Bryant and a 19-year old woman from Colorado on June 30 -- whether it was rape or consensual sex -- he is the one who put his career, team, family and image on the line by placing his libido ahead of the risk.

If Bryant had been savvier, he would have discovered what several NBA veterans have said privately over the years: a professional stripper has no strings attached; a relative stranger is the greater danger. In other words, pay up front, not later.

"I did not assault the woman who is accusing me," Bryant said in a statement on Friday. "I made the mistake of adultery."

As if to underscore their marital commitment -- or to jump-start the character reparation necessary for Bryant's lucrative life as a product endorser -- his wife released a statement almost simultaneously.

"I know that my husband has made a mistake, the mistake of adultery," Vanessa Bryant stated. "He and I will have to deal with that within our marriage and we will do so. He is not a criminal."

But Bryant gave life to that suspicion by taking a dangerous dip in the kind of summertime irresponsibility that has become epidemic for the NBA. Along with Bryant, the names of Damon Stoudamire, Darrell Armstrong and Jerry Stackhouse have popped up in police reports since season's end.

When players skip college and stroll into the league from high school, the temptation is to stop taking notes. Bryant ignored the lesson. Now, he will have to pay his elite Colorado law team, of John and Patsy Ramsey fame, to outmaneuver Mark Hurlbert, the young district attorney from the slow-drip Colorado county of Eagle. Now he faces a Class 3 felony sexual assault charge that carries a possible sentence of four years to life if he is convicted. As he stood outside a courthouse for a news conference Friday, Hurlbert said that after reviewing the evidence, "I can prove this case beyond reasonable doubt."

Bryant's future rests on Hurlbert's failing.

"I have so much to live for," Bryant said in his statement. "And by that I do not mean the contracts, or the money, or the fame. I mean my family. I will fight for them."

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