In July 2003, acclaimed NBA basketball player Kobe Bryant was charged with one count sexual assault—a felony. Nineteen-year-old hotel employee accused Kobe of raping her in his Colorado hotel room on June 30, 2003—the night before the Los Angeles Lakers star was scheduled to have knee surgery. Bryant, while he had admitted to having had adulterous relations with the woman, claimed that it was consensual and denied the sexual assault charges, saying: “I didn’t force her to do anything against her will. I’m innocent.” His accuser, however, claimed that she had openly voiced her desire not to participate in sexual relations, and that Bryant had aggressively ignored these requests.
Bryant’s wife Vanessa, upon receiving word of the charges facing her husband, released the following statement: “I know that my husband has made a mistake—the mistake of adultery. He and I will have to deal with that within our marriage, and we will do so. He is not a criminal. I know that he did not commit a crime, he did not assault anyone. He is a loving and kind husband and father. I believe in his innocence.” The National Basketball Association Commissioner, David Stern, also released a statement, saying: “As with all allegations of a criminal nature, the NBA’s policy is to await the outcome of a judicial proceeding before taking any action. We do not anticipate making further comments during the pendency of the judicial process.”
The case was very intensely followed and scrutinized by the public, and contained several instances of legal mistakes and unconventional defense tactics, including a three-hour testimony of the accuser’s sexual history.
The criminal case against Bryant was dropped mere days before the opening arguments were scheduled to occur after apologizing to and henceforth striking a deal with his accuser. The woman chose not to testify in a criminal court, making it impossible to convict Bryant. In a statement released by the Associated Press, Kobe is quoted as saying, “Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.” Bryant apologized to the victim and her family both for his actions as well as the consequences (including intense hate mail and negative attention from the media) the woman had to go through as a result of it being such a high-profile case.
If Bryant had been convicted, he would have faced a sentence of four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, as well as a fine up to $750,000.
In spite of this controversy, Bryant remains a successful NBA basketball player and continues to be highly regarded by the public as a role model.