Too early to tell how case will affect Kobe's season

Updated: August 6, 2003, 11:22 PM ET
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- The NBA season begins less than three weeks after Kobe Bryant is scheduled to be back in a Colorado courtroom for a preliminary hearing -- an obvious concern for Los Angeles Lakers fans.

Key dates
Sept. 30: Lakers' training camp opens
Oct. 7: Lakers' first preseason game (in Hawaii vs. Warriors)
Oct. 8: Lakers' second preseason game (in Hawaii vs. Warriors)
Oct. 9: Kobe's preliminary hearing in Eagle, Colo.
Oct. 14: Lakers' third preseason game (in San Diego vs. Suns)
Oct. 28: Lakers' regular-season opener against the Mavericks

"It'll obviously be a big blow if he's not around," David Sniezko said after Bryant appeared in court Wednesday in Eagle, Colo., on a sexual assault charge. "I wonder whether or not he can truly focus.

"As he travels, he's going to hear from some fans in other cities about his personal issues as well. It will be a major distraction, not only for him but for the team."

Sniezko watched Wednesday's seven-minute hearing at a downtown bar with a couple other patrons.

The Lakers open training camp in Hawaii on Sept. 30 and face the Golden State Warriors in their first two preseason games there on Oct. 7-8.

Bryant's preliminary hearing in Eagle is scheduled Oct. 9.

"Laker fans, Kobe fans, believe he's innocent until proven guilty," Sniezko said. "Without Kobe, we may lose a game."

The Lakers added future Hall of Famers Karl Malone and Gary Payton during the offseason to go with Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, making the Lakers solid favorites to win a fourth NBA championship in five years.

Of course, that assumes Bryant will be part of the team.

"My biggest concern is how this case is going to affect the basketball season," said Lakers fan Christina Delara. "As good as he is, I worry that this case will affect his ability to play."

Lakers spokesman John Black said it was too early to tell how the Oct. 9 hearing date will affect Bryant's preseason.

"We'll sit down with Kobe at some point when it makes sense to do that and discuss his plans with him at that time," Black said.

A noticeable hush fell over the standing-room-only crowd at Downtown Disney's ESPN Zone in Anaheim when the televised hearing began playing on a giant screen.

Julia Malit, 29, of Sydney, Australia, said she and her husband knew nothing about the case when they arrived in California on vacation. They were awed to see the case on every channel, she said, because she didn't realize Bryant was such a high-profile player.

"I asked the woman sitting next to me, 'Who's the girl?'" Malit said. "I didn't quite know the extent of it."

Shaun Beutner, 23, of La Habra, watched the hearing intently. Beutner said when Bryant was first arrested, he believed the 24-year-old star was innocent. Now, Buetner said, he's not so sure.

"They're talking about a lot of evidence," he said, referring to media reports.

Beutner said he didn't think Bryant could get a fair trial because of his celebrity status.

"A normal case wouldn't get this kind of attention," he said.

Beutner and a friend said they came to the restaurant for lunch but decided to stay to watch the hearing.

Beutner, a college student, said his support for the Lakers would not change.

"That's my team," he said.

Krista Dickinson, 30 of Fullerton, came in for a drink and also decided to stay for the hearing and defended Bryant.

"Everyone says he's guilty. I just don't think so," she said.

Dickinson said she plans to pay attention to the case because she's a big Lakers fan. She was surprised by how brief the appearance was.

"That was really quick," she said.

Even Judge Frederick Gannett said: "This is a very fast event for so much attention."

Jon Wolff, 56, an education consultant from San Diego, watched the hearing at a hotel bar in downtown Los Angeles. Alone in the bar, he shook his head as he watched.

"He has an uphill battle from what I read," Wolff said. "But maybe it will be the O.J. Simpson syndrome. With all those lawyers, he may be able to maneuver around it."

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press