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Old 06-09-04, 07:30 PM
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Bryant's future and fortune are in jeopardy

Bryant's future and fortune are in jeopardy

Planned free agency could be under cloud

By Charlie Brennan, Rocky Mountain News
June 9, 2004

http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drm...949160,00.html

EAGLE - The jury in the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case will not only have his freedom in its hands but also his access to a future nine-digit fortune.

The Los Angeles Lakers star has said he will opt out of his current contract at the conclusion of this season. He wants to explore what opportunities - and riches - might be found with another NBA team, or in a new deal with the Lakers.

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If that happens, one of the league's most dominating talents won't be for sale without a very large string attached, a string that could strangle his career at an age when many players are just hitting their stride.

Bryant's trial is expected to begin as soon as August. Any team that signs him this summer could land a franchise anchor and future Hall of Famer or see him sent to prison for a term of four years to life.

"Jurors are going to have a $150 million decision on their hands," said Dean Bonham, chairman of the Bonham Group, a Denver-based sports marketing firm. "That's a very interesting concept."

Harvey A. Moore, director of Trial Practices Inc., of Tampa, Fla., said that although Bryant's professional and financial circumstances are "not things you can present in court" during trial, Bryant's defense team is likely to make sure jurors are aware of the very concrete dollars-and-cents impact of their decision.

"Jurors will learn of these kinds of issues," Moore said. "It's highly likely that they will be discussed, during voir dire (questioning by the judge and lawyers of potential jurors during the jury selection process), if only to portray the defendant as unlikely to have risked hundreds of millions of dollars, and the future of his family, against the consequences of sexual assault."

Moore was involved in the case of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who was charged in February 2000 with murder in the stabbing deaths of two men at an Atlanta nightclub following Super Bowl XXXIV; Lewis pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice early in his trial, and was sentenced to 12 months' probation. His two co-defendants were acquitted.

And Moore is now working for the defense team of another athlete in trouble, Baltimore Ravens running back Jamal Lewis - no relation to Ray Lewis - who followed a record-setting 2003 season by being indicted earlier this year on a cocaine trafficking charge. That case is pending.

"It's unrealistic to think that it will not play on the jury," Moore said of Bryant's circumstances. "And both sides will explore, in pretrial preparation, methods of evaluating how it can be played. Because, certainly, it will arise.

"When Ray Lewis pleaded guilty, all those factors had to be weighed. They create enormous pressures."

Moore's assessment was challenged, to a degree, by a peer - jury consultant Howard Varinsky, president of Howard Varinsky Associates of Oakland, Calif.

"Nobody (on the jury) will give a (expletive) about that," Varinsky said about the potential of a verdict taking a fortune out of Bryant's pockets. "That's a total nonissue. An absolute nonissue. I would have never thought of it as a possible glimmer of an issue.

"What is important is not the person's money, because this person could already buy you and me, and everything we own, 30, 50, 100 times over, with the money he has already made. Is anybody going to feel sorry for a superstar who has tens and fifties and hundreds of millions of dollars?"

Varinsky added, however, "If what you're talking about is his whole NBA career, that's different from a contract issue. The fact that he comes in as a superstar, with a high-profile sports career, that may have a little bit of influence."

Varinsky, who assisted the prosecution in the recent trial of Martha Stewart, and is also on the prosecution side in the Scott Peterson murder trial, said Bryant's celebrity status might make jurors disinclined to take away his freedom on anything less than an extremely solid case.

Dan Recht, past president of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, said that "there is no burden greater than beyond a reasonable doubt."

Recht added, "But maybe that's the way juries should look at every case, as if they're taking millions of dollars out of the defendant's pocket. Because that's what the law requires them to do: Be unbelievably careful before you convict them."

Bryant's sexual assault trial, stemming from his encounter June 30 with a concierge at the Lodge & Spa at Cordillera in Edwards, has not yet been scheduled. He pleaded not guilty on May 11, and it's expected the trial, lasting at least three weeks, won't begin until at least August.

That sets up a scenario in which Bryant, should he opt out of his Lakers contract as expected, will be shopping himself at a time when no one can even know for sure if he has a future on the court.

All NBA contracts are negotiated under the terms of the league's Collective Bargaining Agreement. In Section 4 of its Article VI - the Player Conduct provision - it says this about "unlawful violence":

"When a player is convicted of (including a plea of guilty, nolo contendere (no contest)) to a violent felony, he shall immediately be suspended by the NBA for a minimum of ten (10) games."

A conviction for Bryant on the charge he is facing could cost him closer to hundreds of NBA games played, while he's in prison.

Sports agents are split on whether any contract Bryant's agent might negotiate between the season's end and the start of his trial would specifically address his unusual circumstance.

Mark Bartelstein, president of Chicago-based Priority Sports, said, "It's obviously a unique situation.

"It's a matter of how bad a team wants him, and what they're willing to risk," added Bartelstein, who counts Bryant's Laker teammates Derek Fisher and Devean George among his clients. "No team wants to get stuck with paying out a gigantic contract, and having no use of the player."

Bonham, the Denver sports marketing executive, doesn't believe Bryant's next contract would necessarily have to address his legal situation.

"It's a pretty straightforward transaction," said Bonham. "If he's found innocent, he'll play under the terms and conditions of the contract they negotiate. And if he is found guilty, he won't.

"What may play into it is whether team executives are willing to spend the energy and time required to negotiate a contract, knowing that he may be found guilty. And then that time and energy is wasted."
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Old 06-09-04, 08:59 PM
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Well - I don't want to be in his shoes regardless of the 10 figure potential riches....
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