Kobe Bryant was charged with sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman in a case bound to tarnish the career of one of the NBA's brightest young superstars.
Bryant denied the charge Friday, fighting back tears at a news conference in Los Angeles and saying he was guilty only of adultery.
"I'm innocent. I didn't force her to do anything against her will. I'm innocent," Bryant said in a Friday evening press conference filled with long, pained pauses and tearful looks at his wife, Vanessa, sitting next to him, holding his right hand.
The 24-year-old Bryant faces probation to life in prison if convicted on the single felony count, Eagle County District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said earlier Friday.
"I feel that after reviewing evidence I can prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt," Hurlbert said. He said Bryant forced the victim into "submission" through physical force and caused "sexual penetration or intrusion."
The woman worked the front desk at the exclusive spa where Bryant was staying while in Colorado for knee surgery in late June and early July. Hurlbert said she would not be made available for comment.
The Los Angeles Lakers guard insisted he was innocent, saying he and his wife are "going to fight these false accusations."
He said he was "disgusted at myself" for what he said was a consensual act.
"You're the strongest person I know and I'm so sorry for having to put you through this and put our family through this," Bryant told his wife. "I'm a human being. I'm a man just like everybody ... and I sit here before you guys embarrassed and ashamed for committing adultery."
Vanessa did not speak at the press conference but released a statement earlier saying she stood by her husband. "He is not a criminal," she said.
Bryant's attorney Pamela Mackey said he will plead not guilty.
Bryant must return to court in Eagle on Aug. 6 for a hearing.
The case has riveted the sports world for nearly two weeks because it involves one of the NBA's brightest and most magnetic young stars. The father of a baby girl has also used his wholesome image to land multimillion-dollar endorsement deals.
Authorities have said Bryant assaulted the woman June 30 at the gated Lodge & Spa at Cordillera in nearby Edwards. He was in Colorado for knee surgery at a Vail clinic, and was booked at the lodge from June 30 to July 2.
Sheriff's deputies took Bryant to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs for tests early July 2. The woman also underwent tests.
Bryant surrendered to authorities July 4 and was released an hour later after posting US$25,000 bond.
The arrest was announced July 6, prompting a firestorm of media attention on this small mountain town 160km west of Denver. Reporters swamped the cul-de-sac where the woman lives with her parents, but she has said nothing publicly. Her family has consulted an attorney.
The woman is well-known in Eagle as a former high school cheerleader and talented musician.
Bryant entered the NBA in 1996 at age 18, straight out of high school. He has drawn comparisons to the league's greatest players.