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Stern says Bryant faces no penalty unless guilty

NEW YORK -- On the day Kobe Bryant was ordered to stand
trial on a felony rape charge, NBA commissioner David Stern
maintained the action on the court eventually will overwhelm the
action in the court.

Stern also said Monday that any penalty Bryant may face from the
NBA would not be assessed until there is an outcome or plea in
the case against the superstar guard of the Los Angeles Lakers.

"I think that the people will focus on basketball when the
season begins," Stern said in a teleconference eight days before
the start of the season. "I think that there will be periodic
media disruptions based on various court dates."

One of those came Monday, when Eagle, Colo. County Judge
Frederick Gannett ruled Bryant must stand trial.

Bryant was not present for the judge's ruling. He practiced
Monday in Southern California with the Lakers.

Stern and NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik are optimistic
that both fans and media will be more interested in the Lakers
than in Bryant, whose trial will be the biggest involving a
sports figure since O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murdering his
ex-wife just over eight years ago.

"I think, for most basketball fans, that's certainly a prime
subject of consideration, is to see how Karl and Gary mix with
the existing stars on the Lakers and where that goes," Granik
said. "Once the ball gets thrown up, except on occasional days,
that will be the bigger story with the Lakers."

"I think, as basketball matters, there's going to be a lot more
interest in our game," Stern said. "Kobe is going to be someone
who has allegations pending and they'll be dealt with in the
normal course. That doesn't mean that there won't be media
attention focused on the case, as it moves its way from
proceeding to proceeding."

Bryant's next court date is November 10; the Lakers
face the Memphis Grizzlies that night. Facing four years to
life in prison, he has maintained his innocence and is expected
to eventually enter a plea of not guilty.

Unless Bryant's lawyers waive their right to a speedy trial, the
trial would begin May 10, when the conference semifinal round
of the playoffs would be under way. The Lakers have reached the
conference semifinals seven straight years.

Under Stern, the NBA's stance on players involved in legal
proceedings has been to allow the justice system to run its
course. However, players such as Allen Iverson, Glenn Robinson
and Ruben Patterson have been suspended by the league after
pleading guilty to lesser charges resulting in little or no
prison time.

If Bryant's lawyers were to negotiate a plea agreement with the
Eagle County District Attorney's Office that allowed him to
avoid prison time, Bryant still would be subjected to a
suspension, fine or both from the NBA.

"I think the idea is that, when all you have is a charge -- with
what David referred to in Kobe Bryant's case -- then we don't
take action at that point," Granik said. "But once there's been
a conviction, I think that's different."