<
>

Sources: Kobe talks to Clippers, too

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.