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."