Laker star 'under the weather'

Updated: October 2, 2003, 10:54 PM ET
Associated Press

HONOLULU -- Kobe Bryant was not on the private plane that brought Los Angeles Lakers veterans to training camp on Thursday and team officials refused to be more specific than saying the star guard was "under the weather."

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"That's all we have to say," said general manager Mitch Kupchak, refusing to answer any other questions about Bryant, who faces felony sexual assault charges in Colorado.

"We're obviously disappointed that Kobe's not here with the basketball club, with his teammates," coach Phil Jackson said after practice for rookies and veterans with fewer than four years of experience.

"This is a team thing, it's about us as a basketball team and what the best is for our team," Jackson said. "So we'll commence tonight and go on as usual. No one is bigger than this team or the game. That's the way it is."

Lakers veterans, including Shaquille O'Neal and newcomers Gary Payton and Karl Malone, were due in Honolulu late Thursday afternoon, and a team meeting was scheduled for Thursday night.

The Lakers first got word on Wednesday from one of Bryant's representatives that he wasn't feeling well, then were told Thursday morning that he wouldn't be making the trip as scheduled.

Jackson tried to call Bryant on Wednesday but said the player wasn't taking calls.

"We have to trust that he's doing the most responsible thing he can do for himself and ultimately, at this point, I think Kobe has to think about himself before the team," Jackson said. "But we have to think about our team."

Asked what was wrong with Bryant, Jackson said: "I don't have any understanding in that department. I can't answer that question because I'm not privy to his condition. I know that the report is he's under the weather.

"I wasn't told he was sick, I was told that he was under the weather. Now is that the marine layer fog that's in L.A. that's been plaguing us for two weeks? Yes, I think that's probably under the weather," Jackson said.

Bryant faces a sexual assault charge involving a 19-year-old Colorado woman in a case that has drawn heavy media attention. The Lakers' guard contends he and the woman had consensual sex.

Jackson said the Lakers don't yet have a plan in place if Bryant's case takes him away from the team in the future, but added: "It caused us to think a little bit about it yesterday after we started hearing information."

Jackson didn't know if Bryant would show up in the next day or so.

"I'm not anticipating anything," the coach said. "That's one of the things that we've talked about earlier this year. We have to be real fluid, not get rigid or anticipate anything or get our hopes up one way or the other.

"We have plenty of players, we have a good team, we're confident in what we're going to do. We're hopeful Kobe will join us and that's as much I can say about it."

Jackson didn't think Bryant's being "under the weather" had anything to do with his shoulder or knee. During the offseason, Bryant underwent surgery on his right shoulder and had minor knee surgery the day after he is charged with committing the sexual assault.

Jackson did say the Lakers anticipate it will take Bryant some time to get into condition and that he might not even be on the court with the team for the first few days he's in camp.

"But we have to see him first to know that," Jackson said.

The Lakers' string of three straight NBA titles ended last spring with a loss in the Western Conference semifinals to eventual champion San Antonio.


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press