Tainted Bryant gains all-star support | VailDaily.com

Tainted Bryant gains all-star support

Don Rogers

Well, we know how pro basketball fans feel about Kobe Bryant. The kid facing a rape trial leads the western all-star voting despite lesser numbers than he’s historically put up, and despite three of his own teammates outplaying him most nights.

He’s never shot worse. Rebounds and assists are down, along with minutes per game. He’s still recovering from knee surgery with Steadman-Hawkins and skinny. His team picked up two more Hall of Fame players in Karl Malone and Gary Payton. And he’s a little less of a ball hog so far this year; that’s a good thing for his team, the Los Angeles Lakers.

Oh yeah, there’s the matter of that criminal case against him back in Eagle County, too. That, more than anything, explains his current popularity. A sympathy vote.

With basketball season in full swing and playing on the highest-profile team in the NBA, Bryant stands out every other night or so, no matter that his 101 sponsors have quietly dropped his commercials.

Meantime, his alleged victim tries to stay out of sight, while the tabloids apparently keep a watch on credit card charges and try to bribe “friends” to rat on her. And yes, we in the regular press occasionally run reports that cause embarrassment. Unfortunately, it’s just that kind of case. And it is likely to get worse as the trial approaches.

The sexual assault victims advocates understandably are put out. While Kobe basks in the warm glow of support – for the moment – the 19-year-old woman who accuses him of rape must deal with the Globe now running her picture and name routinely. And the Internet is alive with starstruck freaks who see nothing but a halo, slipped a skosh maybe, but still firmly in place for an all too obviously spoiled celebrity athlete.

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The victims rights folks sniff that there’s no all-star balloting or glory for victims, just scorn and smearing anyone who dares expose these lesser gods for the real-life clods they sometimes turn out to be. Especially in Los Angeles.

But there’s weakness here, too. The girl is a real human being, and a fragile one at that. Her documented difficulties in life predate Kobe Bryant, and their possible relevance to the case will be thoroughly tested by Bryant’s defense team. You can count on that. Even her mother has been subpoenaed to testify about conversations concerning medical care.

Bryant’s lawyers argue that while the law protects such discussions between husband and wife, no such automatic immunity exists between parent and adult child. It’s called hardball. The trial judge has his hands full refereeing this one – and the trial itself is months and months of nasty motions and hearings away.

Assuredly, the Internet and possibly the tabs are rife with slander, or libel might be the more precise term. But to use the lawyers’ elegant parlance for a second here, much of the “slander” the advocates decry are true facts.

Also, the case itself, at least as revealed in the preliminary hearing, looks shaky enough that the judge who passed the case on to District Court sounded far from impressed in his ruling. Enough so that had the defendant’s name not been Kobe Bryant, this one might well have died in County Court.

Privately, authorities are a little concerned about the quality of the prosecutors’ case. I know I’m skeptical at this stage.

But the District Attorney’s Office certainly sounds confident, and as they correctly point out, they didn’t need to show much of their hand to move their case procedurely to the trial court. We’ll just have to see what they have to build upon the ambiguous physical evidence they’ve brought out so far.

I want them to show their competence and professionalism for the world to see, to reap the rewards for all-star prosecutorial work. I want the young woman to be that all-star victim with the strength to withstand the pressure on her and lay the mighty low – if he truly committed the crime he is accused of.

I’ll settle for understanding in the end why they filed charges in the first place.

Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 600, or editor@vaildaily.com