Bryant might play in Oct. 14 exhibition

Updated: October 7, 2003, 11:42 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson said that Kobe Bryant, who had offseason shoulder and knee surgery, probably will not play until the Lakers' Oct. 14 exhibition against the Phoenix Suns in San Diego.

Jackson said Bryant participated in a sequence of drills on Monday, including fast breaks. But he said the All-Star guard is still "leg-weak and his conditioning is not great, either."

The Lakers coach noted that Bryant has lost 10 to 15 pounds, and will play a little different role this year. "He'll pick up guards and chase and do a little more activity rather than muscle activity," Jackson said. The weight loss "will make it easier for him to run."

Said Bryant: "I can pretty much do everything except explode. My leg is weak at some spots."

Bryant also spoke at length Monday about the sexual assault charge he faces and his preliminary hearing in Colorado on Thursday.

"Going through something like this humbles you," he said at the Lakers' training camp.

He said he would gladly give up fame to live a quiet life with his family without "everybody making up rumors about our lives."

The latest report, in a "Newsweek" cover story, suggested he had been considering a divorce.

"Today I heard it mentioned that I wanted to divorce my wife four months ago, and because I wanted to divorce her she went into shock. C'mon, man, are you kidding me?" he said. "It's way off base. I think people just pull it out of nowhere just to make stuff up and give people something to talk about. It's a shame."

He showed off several tattoos he had gotten this summer: A crown, his wife's name, a halo and angel wings above "Psalm XXVII" on his right arm; his daughter's name on his left.

"This is a crown for my queen," he said of his wife. "She's my angel. She's a blessing to me. Her and Natalia." He recited some of the words of the psalm and said he loved it.

At a news conference in July when Bryant denied raping his 19-year-old accuser, his wife sat next to him and held his hand, contending he was guilty only of adultery for having consensual sex with the young woman. He apologized to his wife at the time, choking back tears.

On his first day back with the Lakers on Saturday, amid the familiar drumming of basketballs in a gym, he appeared uncomfortable. Sunday, he loosened up a little and managed a few smiles, joining teammates in a paintball fight at Bellows Air Force Station, on the southeastern corner of Oahu.

By the end of practice Sunday evening, Bryant was hugging Lakers owner Jerry Buss, shaking hands and rubbing shoulders with Malone and Payton, relaxing around all the players.

By Monday, Bryant was moving more on the court and enjoying himself more.

"If everything comes together, this could be a fun team to watch," Buss said.

However, Bryant's surgically right knee still isn't strong enough to allow him to play. He ran some drills for the first time but won't be ready to play until at least next week.

At 205, he's 15 pounds lighter than he was a year ago.

"I've been through a lot of stress recently so I didn't really train that much [and] lost weight that way," he said. "But I'll pick it back up here. Phil wants me to be on the ball a lot more than I have been in the past, and to do that I have to be a lot lighter."

He said he would be ready for the start of the season in three weeks.

"My lungs will probably still be burning," he said. "But as long as my legs can carry me, I'll be okay. ... I'm itching for some competition."

All that was good news for his teammates -- even if the extraordinary challenge of playing the season while dealing with his legal case lies ahead. He has a date in court in Eagle, Colo., on Thursday for a bond hearing and a possible preliminary hearing. Until then, the Lakers are doing their best to welcome him back.

"I can tell that this is a comfort zone for him," teammate Shaquille O'Neal said. "We have to make it like that for him. He's all joking, smiling, laughing -- until he sees you guys [the media]."

"My escape is faith," Bryant said. "Sometimes it doesn't seem like there's a light at the end of the tunnel. You pray, you have faith. The next thing you know, the light is brighter than ever."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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