With the arrest of one of the National Basketball Association's most glittering stars, allegations of sexual violence are again threatening to sully the reputation of American sport. Kobe Bryant, the driving force behind the Los Angeles Lakers and spoken of by many as the heir to Michael Jordan, was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault after a woman accused him of an incident at a hotel near the Colorado ski resort of Vail.
The 24-year-old star turned himself in last Friday, and was released on $25,000 (£15,000) bail as prosecutors considered whether to file formal charges. But in Los Angeles, Mr Bryant's team-mates and Lakers officials expressed disbelief at the allegations.
"He's married, he has a young kid, he talks about his wife all the time," one said. Another Lakers official says Bryant insists the charges are bogus. In a statement from the Lakers, the club's general manager, Mitch Kupchak, called the claims "completely out of character of the Kobe Bryant we know".
The player, the first in NBA history to be drafted straight from high school when he joined the Lakers in 1996 as the league's youngest player, has lived up to his early promise. He starred when Los Angeles won three consecutive titles from 2000-02 and was named most valuable player in the 2002 All-Star game. Last season he was the NBA's second-highest scoring player, averaging 30 points a game and signing a $45m endorsement deal with Nike.
"For the seven years he's been with us, he has been one of the finest young men we've known and a wonderful asset to both our team and our community," Mr Kupchak added.
Bryant was in Colorado for surgery on his right knee, to relieve pain caused by persistent swelling. The woman who brought the complaint said the alleged incident happened on 30 June, a day before Bryant's surgery.
Prosecutors said yesterday that they needed more time before deciding whether to bring charges against him. The District Attorney, Mark Hurlbert, said: "It may be beyond the end of the week."Reuse content