Jury box provides different view of Kobe

Updated: August 31, 2004, 11:29 AM ET
By Shelley Smith | Special to ESPN.com

The courtroom was filled to capacity Monday with the first wave of potential jurors scheduled for individual questioning in the Kobe Bryant trial. That meant that 14 of the 25 of us who have courtroom seats to cover the trial were asked to sit in the jury box to hear instructions from the judge. We were sent out of the room later as the private questioning began, but for a few moments we had an extraordinary view of a man on trial for rape sitting in front of 41 people, some of whom ultimately could decide his guilt or innocence.

Usually, I sit two rows behind Bryant and see only a profile of his face and the back of his head. But now, I could see what juror No. 6 will see: his face. And right then, he didn't look pleased. In fact, he looked extremely uncomfortable, alternately pursing or licking his lips, clasping and unclasping his hands in front of him while squinting at the transcript monitor a few feet away. He looked anxious and agitated.

The people behind him didn't look so comfortable, either. They had already been waiting 90 minutes in the courthouse hallway while the judge was ruling what portions of jury questioning would be open to the public and media and what would be heard behind closed doors.

At one point, Bryant appeared and waded his way through the group to use the restroom. They couldn't help staring, even though they tried not to show it, eyes shifting even if heads stayed still. It was startling to see the contrast -- a tall, African-American NBA icon in an expensive suit walking through a group of men and women, most of whom were white, dressed in mountain casual.

Once seated in the courtroom, the potential jurors eyed us as curiously as we eyed them and then listened intently as the judge read instructions. Some were young, attractive blondes -- similar looking to the accuser in this case -- others were athletic-looking young men, one in a Boston Red Sox cap. A few were older, a few were Hispanic.

One man brought an infant sucking a pacifier and a toddler-aged little girl, who sat in the seat next to him, gripping his hand tightly. What was he thinking this morning: "Hey, kids, wanna go to a rape trial?"

The media were cleared from the courtroom and, like most of the proceedings thus far, the drama continued behind closed doors.

ESPN reporter Shelley Smith has been covering the events leading to the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case since July 2003.

Shelley Smith

SportsCenter correspondent
Shelley Smith joined ESPN in January 1997 after working part-time as a reporter for the network since 1993. She has covered Super Bowls, the NBA Finals, the BCS championship game, the Stanley Cup playoffs, golf and tennis championships and more.