Kobe Bryant fined $100,000 for gay slur
Bryant apologized Wednesday and said that his comments "should not be taken literally," but he also said that he will appeal the fine.
After receiving a technical foul during Tuesday's game against the San Antonio Spurs, Bryant stormed to the bench, hit his seat before sitting down, threw a towel and then yelled "Bennie!" toward referee Bennie Adams. Bryant then leaned back and muttered a gay slur.
The episode was caught on camera on TNT's national telecast, prompting announcer Steve Kerr to say: "You might wanna take the cameras off of him right now, for the children watching from home."
As gay and lesbian advocacy groups started to cry foul Wednesday afternoon, Bryant issued a statement.
"My actions were out of frustration during the heat of the game, period," he said. "The words expressed do NOT reflect my feelings towards the gay and lesbian communities and were NOT meant to offend anyone."
Bryant appeared on ESPN 710's "Mason & Ireland" show later Wednesday afternoon. Asked what he would say to Adams now, Bryant laughed and said: "That wasn't a damn foul."
Bryant then said that he actually did talk to the referee.
Tracking Kobe's Techs
Since the 2005-06 season, Kobe Bryant has ranked in the top 10 for technical fouls each season. He's been in the top four in five of those six seasons and led the league in 2007-08. He's averaging 14 per season during that span.
Kobe T'd Up, Last 6 Seasons
|<Not including rescinded technicals|
"We talked after the game when both of us were a lot calmer," Bryant said on "Mason & Ireland." "Officials understand that, understand that you have emotional outbursts during the course of the game. That doesn't actually mean what you say."
Bryant admitted his choice of words was not appropriate.
"The comment that I made, even though it wasn't meant in the way it was perceived to be, is nonetheless wrong, so it's important to own that," Bryant said.
Bryant added: "The concern that I have is for those that follow what I say and are inspired by how I play or look to me as a role model or whatever it is, for them not to take what is said as a message of hate or a license to degrade or embarrass or tease. That's something I don't want to see happen. It's important for me to talk about that issue because it's OK to be who you are, and I don't want this issue to be a part of something or to magnify something that shouldn't be."
Stern strongly condemned Bryant's use of the slur in a statement.
"While I'm fully aware that basketball is an emotional game, such a distasteful term should never be tolerated," he said. "Accordingly, I have fined Kobe $100,000. Kobe and everyone associated with the NBA know that insensitive or derogatory comments are not acceptable and have no place in our game or society."
Friday, on ESPN Radio's "Mike and Mike in the Morning," Stern said he did not speak directly with Bryant about the outburst, but that someone did so on his behalf.
"He understood immediately," Stern said of Bryant's reaction to that conversation. "I think the point was made. I think he was on reflection aghast at what he had done."
Saying that the league's fine is "a judgment call that they decided to make and I'm going to abide by it," Bryant also said he would appeal.
"We are appealing it, yeah, that's just typical protocol, and what they do with the response we'll wait and see," he said.
Bryant was asked if he knew what he did was wrong after he uttered the phrase that got him in trouble.
"I was thinking about the game. I wasn't thinking about anything," he said on "Mason & Ireland." "I was thinking about the game and thinking about, 'Damn, I'm sittin' on the bench and this is a big game for us and we have to win it.' Because I was in the moment. I was in the moment and obviously the emotions of the game. Being wrapped up in the moment and having those outbursts is totally normal.
"Hopefully, other players look at what happened to me and what I said and understand you have cameras around the league and there are a lot of things being said that shouldn't be said. Hopefully, we all learn from this experience and follow suit."
The Lakers, who were battling Dallas for the second seed in the West, beat the Spurs 102-93 on Tuesday. The Lakers did end up with the No. 2 seed, and will face No. 7 New Orleans at 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday at Staples Center.
Stern's action drew praise from gay-rights organizations that have demanded a fuller apology from Bryant and the Lakers.
"We applaud Commissioner Stern and the NBA for not only fining Bryant but for recognizing that slurs and derogatory comments have no place on the basketball court or in society at large," said Joe Solmonese, president of Human Rights Campaign -- a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization. "We hope such swift and decisive action will send a strong and universal message that this kind of hateful outburst is simply inexcusable no matter what the context."
Bryant called Solmonese Wednesday before the Lakers' game at Sacramento to apologize and express regret.
"I applaud Kobe Bryant for his swift apology," Solmonese said in statement. "We had a very sincere conversation in which he expressed his heartfelt regret for the hurt that his words caused. He told me that it's never OK to degrade or tease, and that he understands how his words could unfortunately give the wrong impression that this is appropriate conduct. At the end of a difficult day, I applaud Kobe for coming forward and taking responsibility for his actions."
Bryant also told "Mason & Ireland" that he will try to be more involved with gay and lesbian issues by reaching out to groups to help.
"It's not OK to insult or disrespect," he said. "It's not the right thing to do, so I will be saying something to them, so hopefully we can do some things to try to prohibit violence, to prohibit hate crimes and things of that nature because it's extremely important to do that."
The 32-year-old Bryant is a former league MVP, a 13-time All-Star, the leading scorer in Lakers franchise history and sixth on the NBA's career list after passing Moses Malone last month. He was the MVP of the NBA Finals while leading the Lakers to back-to-back titles.
Bryant has been among the NBA's most popular players worldwide for most of his 15-year career, spent entirely with the Lakers, even after he was arrested and accused of sexual assault in 2003 in a case that was later dropped. He has several lucrative endorsement deals with companies ranging from Sprite to Turkish Airlines.
His No. 24 jersey was the league's best-selling uniform among fans during each of the past two seasons, and Bryant's jersey finished second to LeBron James' new Miami uniform in the NBA's annual rankings released earlier Wednesday.
"It's unfortunate he got caught saying something like that. It came in the heat of the game. He made his apology, and we move forward," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said before his team faced the Sacramento Kings Wednesday night.
Gay-rights groups quickly denounced Bryant's actions against Adams. Jarrett Barrios, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, saw an opportunity to put a spotlight on the unacceptable nature of anti-gay slurs.
"Professional sports players need to set a better example for young people who use words like this on the playground and in our schools, creating a climate of intolerance and hostility," Barrios said. "The LA Lakers have a responsibility to educate their fans about why this word is unacceptable."
Known as a fierce competitor with a nasty edge, Bryant has ranked among the NBA's top 10 accumulators of technical fouls during each of the past six seasons, and he has edged right up to the line of serious NBA discipline this spring. He ranks second only to Orlando's Dwight Howard in technical fouls this season, mostly for arguing with referees.
Bryant was called for an additional technical foul that was rescinded Monday. If Bryant had gotten another T in the Lakers' season finale at Sacramento on Wednesday night, he would have been suspended for the first game of next season, not for a playoff game.
Stern, on "Mike and Mike in the Morning," said the incident could serve as a teaching moment, as other issues the NBA has experienced have done.
"I think that people ... engage in conversations in the context of sports that they really don't engage in other places," Stern said.
"Remember, we started a pretty big conversation about AIDS when Magic Johnson announced he was HIV-positive," Stern said. "When a Ron Artest, after The Finals, thanks a lot of people including his therapist, people understand that we're dealing with human beings and we all have issues. And when we deal with a Kobe or an errant remark, it causes people to think."
Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.