Kobe's interest just a PR move?

Originally Published: July 8, 2004
By Frank Hughes | Special to ESPN.com

I was watching the movie "Primary Colors" the other day, and toward the end of it, the movie makes the point that presidential candidate Jack Stanton -- or, Bill Clinton, if you are paying attention -- won the Democratic nomination in large part because he simply went out and glad-handed more people than his competitors, whether it was in a factory, a doughnut shop or, well, in the bedroom.

Kobe Bryant
APIt'll be tough for Coloradans not to have an opinion on Kobe.
That point got me thinking about the effect that celebrity has on everyday people, the ones whose view of debilitating warts generally is hidden by a well-placed, two-dimensional camera angle that acts as a filter, sometimes to the detriment of all involved.

And then I see that free-agent basketball superstar Kobe Bryant has decided to meet with Denver Nuggets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe, and it makes me start to wonder: How will the fact that Bryant is now allegedly entertaining the notion of playing for the Nuggets affect a potential jury pool in his upcoming rape trial?

After all, it would be easy for a Colorado citizen to look at a superstar like Bryant, who hails from that big ol' star-studded town over there on the coast, and perhaps consider with a biased heart that he took advantage of a wide-eyed Rocky Mountain girl in a resort town, particularly when said player happens to rip the heart out of a large contingent of local basketball fans with a few last-second shots.

But when the possibility presents itself that that superstar player could be competing for the hometown five, when there remains the distinct possibility that he could put local basketball on the national map for the next six seasons at a time that local basketball has been the league laughingstock for the better part of a decade, when he becomes part of the fabric of the city, well, dear God if that doesn't alter just about everything.

Could it be that Vandeweghe, in his attempt to garner positive public relations for his own organization -- and, really, who can blame him? It is his job, after all -- has unwittingly contaminated a potential jury pool of Bryant's "peers?"

Could it be that Bryant, whether intentionally or unintentionally, either on the advice of his lawyers, agent or neither, is playing a card that may have desired affects beyond the basketball court?

Consider, what does it hurt Bryant to meet with Vandeweghe? He burns a few hours speaking with the head of a multi-million dollar corporation and he gets scads of free publicity.

The fact that Bryant is considering playing for the Nuggets is the talk of the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News, as well as talk radio all over the state. The wires pick up the stories for every tiny daily newspaper scattered throughout both the mountains and the plains. People on the street are talking about the ramifications.

And, inevitably, somebody somewhere who will get a jury duty notification in the mail will happen upon the situation and develop his or her own opinion, one of which very well could be: If he is really considering coming to play in Denver, he could not be guilty -- it doesn't make sense.

Hey, listen, I am not saying Kobe did or didn't commit the crime of which he is accused. I have no idea, you have no idea, and a large part of me wonders whether the two people in that room really know what happened.

But what I am saying is that the fact that Bryant's name is once again splashed all over the newspapers, radios and televisions in that state is going to make it very difficult for the courts to find an unbiased jury to sit in for the trial of the century.

This is all assuming, of course, that Bryant turns down the Nuggets, which I believe he will do.

The fact that Bryant's name is once again splashed all over the newspapers, radios and televisions in that state, it is going to make it very difficult for the courts to find an unbiased jury to sit in for the trial of the century.
From everything I understand about Kobe, after what has happened, there is no way his wife's L.A.-based family is going to allow her to move away from them and to Colorado, particularly at a time that Kobe's upcoming trial is looming.

But just imagine what effect it would have on the upcoming trial if Kobe were to suddenly be a citizen of Colorado and a member of the Nuggets. You think people question the veracity of this girl's story now?

I ask you to consider one thing: What would she be going through if the incident had occurred in Los Angeles and she was a resident of Southern California, accusing the beloved Lakers' wonderchild of unthinkable atrocities? Unbearable for her, I can promise you that. Because, wrong or right, when a celebrity starts taking up space in the hearts of locals, they invariably get the benefit of the doubt.

Whether Bryant does remains to be seen, but his recent flirtation with the Nuggets is, at the very least, curious.

Frank Hughes, who covers the NBA for the Tacoma (Wash.) News-Tribune, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

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