Lines are blurring for Bryant |

Lines are blurring for Bryant

J.A. Adande/L.A. Times-Washington Post News Service

LOS ANGELES – The sport-utility vehicle pulled to a stop, and Kobe Bryant stepped out. This is becoming a familiar sight, as recognizable to viewers of CNN and Court TV as it is to NBA fans.

Whether or not he’s on his way to the court or the courthouse is irrelevant at this point, mere details about the when and the where.

This whole thing is turning into another reality show. And if no-names can become celebrities just because the camera follows them around while they argue with their roommates or eat bugs on an island, what happens when we see live shots of bona fide superstars throughout the day?

They grow even larger in stature.

The loudest cheer in the Laker-Nugget game Friday night came when Bryant joined the Lakers after one quarter. Where tardiness once turned Dennis Rodman and J.R. Rider into ex-Lakers, this late arrival drew a standing ovation.

Then, in a bizarre case of celebrity worlds colliding on live television, Nicole Richie – Paris Hilton’s co-star in the Fox reality show “The Simple Life” – told Fox Sports Net’s Bill Macdonald during a courtside interview that her favorite player was “Kobe – because I want him to have sex with me.”

No matter that he’s married, no matter that he stands accused of sexual assault. A woman goes on TV and says she wants him in the sack.

Why? Because he’s in the news. And I thought Adam, the nice guy who lost the girl to the dumb pretty boy on “Average Joe,” would be the most desirable man in America because now he’s famous and a sympathetic figure as well.

Nope. You need a little bit of notoriety as well.

It just builds and builds. Among the side effects of the Lakers’ higher-than-ever profile this year are a weekly listing of celebrities in attendance by the L.A. Times and in-game celebrity interviews on Fox Sports Net broadcasts.

Macdonald was trying to be a good company guy, giving a little publicity to a show on the parent network. So that’s how Richie, who’s famous because she’s Lionel Richie’s daughter and hangs out with the Hilton family’s gossip-column-fixture heiress, got some additional air time – and used it to turn a Laker broadcast into the “Howard Stern Show.”

Said a Laker staffer when he heard the story: “This whole thing is a freak show.”

On the air, a stunned Macdonald simply said: “We’ve got to go back upstairs.”

Then he returned to his seat in the media section, shaking his head and saying, “This is not good.”

“That’s going to end all the celebrity interviews, probably,” Macdonald said. “I’m shocked. It was horribly inappropriate.”

That’s what happens when the little red light is always on, the camera always pointed at someone, anyone, who wants to say something on TV.

It doesn’t matter whether or not the judge allows cameras in the courtroom, the Bryant trial will be played out on television. We’ll see shots of him going and coming. We’ll see Jeffrey Toobin and Roger Cossack and everyone else analyzing it.

We’ll see the friends of Bryant’s accuser giving her side of the story, as her ex-boyfriend did on the “Today” show Thursday.

And we’ll see Bryant playing games in his Laker uniform, the fans giving their opinion with every cheer and boo.

The lines between Bryant’s two realms blurred Friday, and by the end of a very long day the only apparent conclusion was that even as his ability to fulfill his responsibilities to the Lakers grows hazier, his star burns even brighter.

The charge against him has brought its share of boos and negative comments, but it also seems to have made his fans even more fervent. They wear his No. 8 with greater pride, they cheer even louder. Not just at home, but on the road.

Friday even featured another sure-fire television hook: a race against time. Could Bryant get back from a motions hearing for his sexual assault case in Colorado in time for the Lakers’ game against the Denver Nuggets?

Shortly before 8 a.m. Pacific time, an SUV ferrying Bryant pulled up to the courthouse in Eagle, Colo., for the motions hearing. District Judge Terry Ruckriegle issued rulings on only two of the five motions addressed during the day, leaving plenty to be addressed at the next hearing on Jan. 23 – and potentially beyond. Everything from personal medical information to T-shirts (both evidence and novelties) has come into play and with both sides digging in to fight over every last detail, you can forget about the “swift” part of justice. He left the courthouse at about 5:15 p.m. Pacific time and headed for a private jet.

At 7:53 p.m., a white SUV pulled into the Staples Center garage. Bryant emerged and, flanked by two security guards, walked briskly up the service ramp to a waiting golf car, which whisked him to the locker room.

Less than seven minutes remained in the first quarter. Kareem Rush, who took Bryant’s place in the starting lineup, had already picked up two fouls.

Bryant was in the locker room for about 25 minutes, then came to the Laker bench right after the first quarter ended. The fans went crazy.

Coach Phil Jackson sent him right into the game.

At first he was content to pass the ball to Slava Medvedenko. As he got into the flow of the game he became more comfortable taking shots.

Then, after the Lakers had blown a huge lead, they had one more shot to win the game. Even before the Lakers inbounded the ball the fans were chanting Kobe’s name. He took the pass, pump-faked, then launched a shot that dropped through the net as the buzzer sounded and the red lights came on.

Lakers win, Kobe’s the hero.

You’d swear it was scripted, if you didn’t know better.

This is reality TV.

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