Commish does not see a media problem

Updated: September 23, 2003, 4:59 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

TARRYTOWN, N.Y. -- NBA Commissioner David Stern said that Kobe Bryant, despite awaiting a potential sexual assault trial in Colorado, should continue to play for the Lakers this season.

"Absolutely," Stern, when asked if Bryant should play, told the Los Angeles Times for Tuesday's editions. "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, [if] 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]."

Stern, in New York attending the league's rookie transition program, told the newspaper that the Bryant case "certainly hasn't escaped our notice, is what I would say," but that for the NBA, "our preparations are purely [administrative], 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."

Bryant is accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old hotel employee from Eagle, Colo. Bryant claims the sex was consensual. His preliminary hearing, at which a judge will determine whether there will be a trial, is scheduled for Oct. 9.

According to the newspaper, NBA players (per league guidelines) face more media exposure than most other athletes. The Lakers still have not announced any special guidelines for the media's dealing with Bryant. Stern told the Times that 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."

Bryant is expected to report for the start of training camp in Hawaii on Oct. 2.

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