The Kobe Bryant-Karl Malone feud has turned personal, with Bryant accusing Malone of making a pass at his wife at a game.
"He was like a mentor, like a brother to me, so when something like that happens, you're upset, you're hurt," Bryant said Sunday night before the Los Angeles Lakers played the Orlando Magic.
Malone has been recuperating from knee surgery, and last Tuesday his agent said he didn't plan to return to the Lakers because of comments Bryant made in a radio interview. Bryant spoke about the Lakers having to look over their shoulders, wondering whether Malone was going to play again.
Malone's agent, Dwight Manley, said then that Malone was furious at Bryant, and also said private, personal attacks were involved, but would not elaborate.
Bryant elaborated plenty on Sunday.
He said he had phoned Malone, who has a home near Bryant's in Newport Beach, after Vanessa Bryant told her husband on Nov. 23 that Malone had made inappropriate comments to her that night at the game at Staples Center.
Bryant said he called Malone and told him, "Stay away from my wife. What's wrong with you? How could you?"
Malone was unavailable for comment Sunday.
According to Manley, however, Malone said he had never made a pass at Bryant's wife, that he initially was surprised at the accusation, and that he apologized to both Bryant and his wife for any remarks she may 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.
Bryant said he obviously was surprised by Malone's remarks to his wife.
"The comments that he said, I don't know any man in this room that wouldn't be upset about that," Bryant said in the Lakers' locker room. "The past month, myself, my wife, [Malone's wife] Kaye, 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."
Malone, 41, told the Lakers on Oct. 1 he was still recovering from arthroscopic surgery he underwent three months earlier on his right knee and wasn't ready to play. But he didn't rule out returning at some point this season or beyond.
Malone, the second-leading scorer in NBA history, opted out of his US$1.65 million contract following last season, making him a free agent.
Shelden Williams had 18 points and 10 rebounds as the ninth-ranked Duke Blue Devils thumped Toledo, 82-54, earning head coach Mike Krzyzewski his 700th career victory.
At 700-240, the 57-year-old Krzyzewski became the second-youngest to reach the plateau, falling just short of his college coach, Bob Knight, who was 56. He joins Lou Henson, Eddie Sutton, Lute Olson and John Chaney in the elite fraternity.
J.J. Redick added 14 points and Daniel Ewing 13 for the Blue Devils (6-0). Shavlik Randolph added 12 points