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Kobe Bryant's Problems Continue Off and On the Court - 2003-11-11

Kobe Bryant of the National Basketball Association's Los Angeles Lakers is scheduled to be back in court this week on charges that he sexually assaulted a 19-year-old hotel worker earlier this year in the resort town of Eagle, Colorado. But, in addition to his problems off the court, Bryant has been having problems with his team as well.

At the November 13 hearing, Bryant will be advised of his rights, the charge against him and the possible penalty: four years to life in prison, or 20 years-to-life on probation. He will also have the opportunity to enter his plea.

The 25-year-old Bryant has been charged with felony sexual assault. He is accused of raping the young woman June 30 at a luxury Colorado resort. Bryant admits he had sex with her, but says it was consensual. While waiting for the trial to begin, Bryant has been free on $25,000 bond, and has been playing for the Lakers.

Washington-area resident Miguel Marti, who has been a Los Angeles fan since the Magic Johnson "Showtime" era, feels Bryant's legal problems will have permanent repercussions.

"It's really just a shame for basketball and all the fans too," he said. "I was very shocked by the events that happened and what supposedly transpired between him [Bryant] and that young lady. There is really a lose-lose situation, and his reputation is forever tarnished, guilty or not."

But if his legal problems were not enough of a distraction, Bryant began the new NBA season at odds with the Lakers' star center, Shaquille O'Neal. While the two appear to have put their problems behind them for now, their renewed hostilities caught many, including Marti, unaware.

"I was really surprised by that," he said. "I know there has always been an underlying resentment between the two. I thought the timing was really bad, but turns out that they have really worked out their hostilities. I'm not sure that they have really put it away [resolved their differences], but they have been able to focus on basketball, and as long as they can get along together on the court, that is all that matters, I think."

After a thaw in their icy relationship in recent seasons, Shaquille O'Neal sparked matters by saying that Kobe Bryant was forcing his shots, and that the star guard, who was recovering from knee surgery, should concentrate on being "more of a passer until his legs get strong." Bryant obviously did not appreciate O'Neal's comments, and said he did not need advice from the Lakers' star center. But Dallas Mavericks center Dirk Nowitzki gave VOA Sports his opinion of the impact of Shaq and Kobe's personal relationship on the court.

"Oh, I don't know, I guess we will all have to see," he said. "But I mean, Shaq and Kobe were never really great friends, but they still found ways to win championships and to kind of pull it together on the court. So I am assuming that will happen again this year. So I'm sure they are gonna have a great year and they are gonna be a tough team to beat when it comes down to the playoffs."

Shaq says he considers the Lakers to be "his team," whether Bryant likes it or not, and that Kobe should make good on his threat to opt out of his contract after this season and become a free agent. Lakers fan Miguel Marti gave VOA Sports his take on the feud.

"Just a couple of big egos. Both want to dominate this team, both want to have their stamp on it," he said. "In reality it really is Shaq's team, Kobe is just his sidekick but Kobe does not want to realize that. He wants his own team. But as long as he is on the Lakers it will be Shaq's team and I don't think he [Kobe] will be able to handle it, and that is why he may not be there that much longer."

Though fined by Lakers coach Phil Jackson for some of his comments, whether Kobe Bryant will be a free man and even be able to test the free agent market at the end of this season remains to be seen. But one thing is clear - the Los Angeles Lakers are playing well together, starting the season with five wins and two losses.