Kobe takes on the hard questions

In two interviews with ESPN, Kobe Bryant addressed the topics of his personal image and his rifts with former Los Angeles Lakers teammates Karl Malone and Shaquille O'Neal and former coach Phil Jackson.

Bryant, in a taped interview on ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption" on Wednesday, did not elaborate much further about Malone, whom Bryant previously accused of making a pass at Bryant's wife, Vanessa, at a Lakers game on Nov. 23. Bryant said he wouldn't give Malone the benefit of the doubt in this situation, even as he conceded Malone was like "a big brother" to him last season.

Malone's agent said last week that his client didn't plan to
return to the Lakers because of comments Bryant made in a radio
interview questioning Malone's intent in rejoining the team.

"To me, it's water under the bridge," Bryant said Wednesday. "I just kind of want to move on from it. We just go our separate ways."

However, Bryant, who was interviewed on ESPN's "NBA Shootaround" on Wednesday night, was somewhat more open in talking about O'Neal. Bryant said that if he got the chance to sit down with O'Neal, he would apologize for involving O'Neal in Bryant's personal problems, referring to statements given to police in which Bryant said that O'Neal had paid hush money to women.

"Off the court, I have nothing against him," Bryant said. "I'd definitely love to sit down and talk with him. I don't know, maybe that'll happen. ... I never intended to involve him in my troubles. I'd apologize to him for that."

Bryant said he has passed the word to O'Neal through a mutual friend that he would like to discuss the matter.

"December 25 sounds like a good day to me to kind of talk to him and tell him I never meant in any kind of way to bring any of his personal business out," Bryant said. O'Neal, who was traded to the Miami Heat in the offseason, will play the Lakers on Christmas Day, the first meeting of the two teams since O'Neal was traded.

Asked whether he had anything to say about Bryant's suggestions, O'Neal responded, "No, none whatsoever," according to media reports. He added to reporters that the Dec. 25 game was "just another game" to him and told them he feels no ties to the Lakers because "everybody that had something to do with me has been fired or traded."

As to whether he feels any extra pressure surrounding the Lakers-Heat game, O'Neal sounded sanguine, telling the media: "I built that arena, so I don't have to make a point."

Bryant also says he feels "like I'm under a microscope, but there's nothing I can do about it." As for people believing he forced out Shaq and coach Phil Jackson, whose contract was not renewed with the Lakers, Bryant said, "It's just not true."

In Jackson's book, "The Last Season: A Team in Search of Its Soul," he said he no longer wanted to coach Bryant.

Jackson wrote that he became so frustrated with Bryant that he told
general manager Mitch Kupchak in January: "I won't coach this team
next year if he is still here. He won't listen to anyone. I've had
it with this kid."

At the time, Bryant shrugged off Jackson's criticism. "He's just trying to sell books. I'll just leave it at that," Bryant said in October.

A month earlier, O'Neal denied Bryant's allegations that O'Neal had paid up to $1 million in hush money to various women. "I'm not the one buying love," O'Neal said at the time.

O'Neal made the remark to ESPN's Stephen A. Smith after the Los Angeles Times quoted a police
report as saying Bryant told detectives in Eagle, Colo., that he "should have done what Shaq does ... Shaq would pay his women not to say anything" and already had paid up to $1 million "for situations like this."

Bryant was accused of sexual assault in Eagle, Colo., in June 2003. More than a year later, the charges against him were dismissed, but Bryant still has a civil suit pending against him.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.