Nuggets fans welcome Bryant with boos

Lakers star makes 1st trip to Colorado as a player since sex assault charge

January 08, 2004|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

DENVER - As Kobe Bryant stepped to the free-throw line late in the first quarter last night, the Pepsi Center crowd turned its fury on him with a chorus of boos.

But the Denver Nuggets' fans had to be prompted by the giant scoreboard to "make some noise," hardly what would have been expected given the circumstances.

This was the All-Star guard's first game in Colorado since Bryant was charged last summer with sexually assaulting a 19-year-old hotel employee at a resort near Vail.

Bryant was booed lustily from the time he was introduced in the Los Angeles starting lineup to his first shot attempt - six seconds into the game - and with every subsequent touch of the ball.

He said afterward that the reaction didn't bother him and was about par for the course for what he has been facing from city to city.

"I come in expecting the worst," Bryant said. "So far this season, it's been OK. I go out there to do my job and I don't think about it."

After a slow start - 4-for-11 in the first half for 10 points - the four-time All-Star shined in the second half, scoring 17 points for a game-high 27 in the Lakers' 113-91 loss to the Nuggets - their fourth straight and sixth in the past seven.

The loudest reaction of the night came early in the third period, when Bryant tangled with Carmelo Anthony (Towson Catholic) as the Denver rookie was attempting to grab an offensive rebound. Their arms locked and Anthony jerked his away. The two pushed each other and earned a double technical.

Bryant praised Anthony's spunk and said he wouldn't mind being a teammate someday.

For all the booing, which ended when Bryant left the floor with 4:24 remaining, there was also a distinct cache of Bryant supporters, from the youngest of fans to middle-aged men, many wearing replica No. 8 jerseys in various colors.

Last night's game seemed to follow a pattern in which Bryant, who is among the Western Conference leaders in voting for next month's All-Star Game, has been mildly booed or warmly received.

"For me, it's just basketball," said Bryant, who left the locker room in a fur jacket. "You have to take the good with the bad. You go out there and do the best job that you possibly can. I just go out there and compete."

Said Lakers coach Phil Jackson: "Kobe was very animated. He gave his competitive best. He was feisty. I wish the rest of the players were as competitive. He was excited about the game. He has had some great games on this court. He didn't have a great game, but he tried to shoulder it on his own."

All hands were on alert for the possibility of some kind of protest against Bryant, who was charged in Eagle County with assaulting the hotel employee during a June 30 visit to the area to have his ailing knee examined.

But Bryant's appearance on a Denver basketball court - he has made two court appearances for hearings with a third scheduled Jan. 23 - hardly created a ripple, either on television or on talk radio yesterday.

When Cynthia Stone, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Coalition for Sexual Assault, announced that her group would not protest Bryant's appearance, it seemed to defuse whatever anger might have been present.

"This is about a court case, not about a basketball game," Stone told the Rocky Mountain News. To protest, Stone said, "just sensationalizes his case more, which we do not want to do. We want to see a system and a process that works, and is fair and balanced for the alleged victim and the defendant."

Bryant provided something of an on-court curiosity factor when he guaranteed a Lakers win last night. In the first game between the two, a 101-99 Los Angeles win Dec. 19 at Staples Center, Bryant, who arrived late because of a court appearance, hit the game-winning basket at the buzzer.

However, he was unable to deliver on his pledge, though he took amusement at the sight of reporters and cameramen jockeying for position in front of his locker.

"It was really no different than any other night," he said. "Normally, I don't hear reporters talk over each other. That was fun. I wish we would have won. We're due for one. Hopefully, we'll win Friday."

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