NBA chief encourages Bryant to play
“Absolutely,” Stern said. “We don’t have a patriot act in the NBA. That means that you’re innocent until proven guilty. If every time someone was accused and there were allegations they were required to stop their life, that wouldn’t be a good thing. That could be their choice, but they shouldn’t be forced to (stop).”
Bryant is accused of having sexually assaulted a 19-year-old woman in Eagle, Colo. Bryant says the sex was consensual. Bryant has a preliminary hearing scheduled Oct. 9, at which a judge will determine if there will be a trial.
Stern said the Bryant case, one of the most-discussed news stories of the summer, “Certainly hasn’t escaped our notice, is what I would say.”
Stern said that for the NBA, “Our preparations are purely administerial, having to do with security and public relations, communications access. Everything else is business as usual.
“Will there be some media distraction? Yes. But I doubt very much whether there will be any basketball distraction.”
One thing that makes the Bryant case unusual, even by celebrity-trial standards, is that few public figures face as much regular exposure to reporters as NBA players. They are expected to be available to the media after practices and games, and for a 45-minute period before games. Although Bryant rarely conducted pregame interviews in recent years, he could be counted on to answer questions afterward, win or lose, and at practice.
The Lakers still have not announced media guidelines for interviewing Bryant, who is expected to be with the rest of the Laker veterans when they begin training camp Oct. 2 in Hawaii. At least 30 reporters – about six times the normal number – are expected to be there.
Stern said the league would not impose restrictions on access to Bryant, but would instead rely on expectations of common sense and respect for privacy on legal matters.
“I think there’s a difference between media access, which will remain complete, and what any particular player chooses to respond to,” Stern said. “I can’t imagine that it would be constructive or fair or even, in some ways, court-approved, if there were to be dialogue and questioning about the case. My guess is – and it’s only a guess from a distance – is that it should be off-limits.”
Stern himself has had little to say on the matter since 5th Judicial District Attorney Mark Hurlbert announced in July that he was filing the charge. Stern spoke to reporters Monday after addressing new NBA players at the league’s annual Rookie Transition Program.
At the six-day mandatory program, incoming players are instructed in everything from league rules to the perils of wealth and fame. There also are sessions about sex crimes and gender violence.
“Those types of situations have (always) been a point of extraordinary focus,” Stern said. “It may be that our summer’s events will cause our youngsters to listen a little more intently. But we have a very long-running employee-assistance program.
“The important thing is to provide our young players access to the best that we can do with respect to their basketball heritage, their personal responsibility, their opportunity to get help and to access enormous amounts of educational, social- and professional-skills help. “Each year, I’ve seen our players, as young as they may be, become more sophisticated in their understanding of our league, the business issues and the life-skills issues, the importance of community issues and the like. …
“I think, in light of the summer’s activities, we’re seeing a modest increase in receptivity, because it’s always been very high. But I think … you can here more pins dropping.”