Sources: Kobe talks to Clippers, too

Updated: July 8, 2004, 3:21 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

DENVER -- Boos and catcalls greeted Kobe Bryant when the Los Angeles Lakers visited the Denver Nuggets this year, but he still drew cheers from some spectators despite his Colorado sexual assault case.

Now the Nuggets are talking with Bryant about the possibility of bringing the superstar to Denver, a prospect that has fans buzzing.

Of course, he could also stay in Los Angeles. Sources told ESPN.com that Bryant met with the Clippers on Wednesday.

Kroenke and Nuggets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe initially met with Bryant at his home on Monday, ESPN.com reported.

"I thought it was a good meeting and it went well," Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke told ESPN's Jim Gray on Tuesday. "I believe he's sincere in his exploration and I don't think he would waste our time or his. But I think it went well. I was impressed."

Bryant is testing the free-agent market ahead of his trial, scheduled to begin Aug. 27. He said in February he would consider playing for the Nuggets, among other suitors, despite the boos.

"There's a bunch of mixed reaction out there," said Doug Eisiminger, 23, of Littleton, whose father has held Nuggets season tickets for 13 years. "I'm sure it would die down after a while, but at first there would be animosity toward [Nuggets] management."

Bryant's agent did not return a phone call from The Associated Press.

Bryant has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault on a teenage employee of the Vail-area resort where he stayed last summer. He has said they had consensual sex.

If convicted, he faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, and a fine up to $750,000.

Nuggets officials likely have already carefully considered the possible repercussions with fans, sponsors and the general public if they signed Bryant, said David Carter, head of the Sports Business Group marketing firm.

"It's easier to make that business decision when you've had a chance to watch this for a year and you have not seen Kobe meet with any extreme backlash in any markets," he said.

"To the extent the Denver Nuggets or any other team doesn't see that backlash, it gives them in their mind political cover to go forward."

Carter said the case of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis is an example of how fans can separate an athlete's personal life from his performance on the field.

Lewis and two friends were charged with murder in the stabbing deaths of two men after the 2000 Super Bowl. Lewis pleaded guilty to obstructing law enforcement officers and interfering with an investigation. Today, he has endorsements worth millions from Reebok, EA Sports and the NFL.

"The greater the athletic skill, the more tolerant franchises and fans are," Carter said.

"As long as you can produce on the field, there is a willingness on behalf of the fans to give you a pass, and I think it's sending a very mixed message ... primarily to the next generation of fans," he said.

The criminal case has to be held separate from Bryant's career, at least for now, said Cynthia Stone, spokeswoman for the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

"This isn't about basketball, it's about a criminal procedure, and our country's legal system is founded on the presumption of innocence," she said.

"It would probably be very unpopular with a lot of people, but it's within his rights and it's within the Nuggets' rights," she said.

Sports fans typically accept or shrug off bad behavior by the stars, said longtime Nuggets fan Stan Diamond, 27, of Centennial.

"You have a lot of California fans [in Denver] already, and then you have the people who love him as a player and no matter what, they are not going to believe those allegations," Diamond said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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