Originally created 04/24/04

Kobe Bryant finally speaks, ending 11-day silence



HOUSTON -- Kobe Bryant took a brief break from his self-imposed media boycott Friday, giving an impromptu interview to The Associated Press in which he explained his extended silence with a short answer: "One thing, I am stubborn."

Bryant's comments, in which he reiterated that he'd prefer to play for the Lakers next season after opting out of his contract, were his first to a member of the print media in 12 days.

The league office - including commissioner David Stern - has been pressuring the Lakers to persuade Bryant to end his boycott, which violates the league's media access rules.

It was not known if Bryant planned to consent to further interviews before or after his team's first-round playoff game against the Houston Rockets on Friday night.

"I'm not going to talk about" specifics, Bryant said, referring to the boycott.

His silence began after Los Angeles media questioned whether he was sending a message to his teammates and coach Phil Jackson when he took only one shot in a late-season loss at Sacramento.

One unidentified player told The Los Angeles Times that the team might never forgive Bryant, who has been the subject of criticism during his career for his shot selection and freelancing on offense.

Bryant would not answer a follow-up question on his self-described stubbornness and proclivity to hold a grudge, and how those qualities have remained constants during his maturation from a teenage NBA rookie into an eight-year veteran.

"I'm not getting into that man, are you kidding me?" he said.

But Bryant did speak about his upcoming free agency, saying he believes fans in Los Angeles have developed a better understanding of why it makes financial sense for him to opt out of his contract.

"Things have been pretty calm, actually," Bryant said. "The team understands, I'm not worried about that, and I think the people have a better concept of why.

"I think if they understand the business side of it they'll have a firm grasp of it, too - being able to stay with the Lakers longer if I do opt out, signing a longer extension."

Bryant will be eligible to sign a seven-year deal with the Lakers with 12 1/2 percent annual raises, with a starting salary equal to 30 percent of the salary cap. Other teams will only be able to offer a six-year contract with 10 percent annual raises.

Bryant was asked what the chances are that he'll return to the Lakers.

"I don't know, I can't say 100 percent. This is the place I'd rather play."

The Lakers were hoping for a four-game sweep of the Rockets to avoid a potential conflict with the court schedule in Bryant's sexual assault trial in Colorado, where hearings are scheduled for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Bryant would have to fly back from Colorado after Wednesday's hearing in time to make a 10:30 EDT tip-off that could be moved up by a half-hour if the San Antonio-Memphis and New York-New Jersey series both end in four games.

The Lakers earned a postseason matchup with the Rockets after they won the Pacific Division on the final night of the regular season by defeating Portland in double-overtime behind two incredible shots by Bryant.

The first came at the end of regulation as Bryant was tightly defended by Ruben Patterson. Falling to his right, Bryant flung up a difficult 3-point shot that tied the game.

"It's got to be up there" with the best shots of his career, Bryant said. "The thing about that was I actually had a pretty good look at it. It was a tough shot because I was leaning and falling away, but as far as having a good look at it trajectory-wise, it was a good look."

Bryant won the Portland game with a 3-pointer at the end of the second overtime off an inbounds play. Bryant said he was fouled on the play by Theo Ratliff, who jammed Bryant's left ring finger when he attempted to block the shot.

"We had two big games we needed to win to keep the pressure on Sacramento," Bryant said. "You never know what's going to happen. I thought back to the circumstances at the end of the football season where the Green Bay Packers needed a big win and needed (Minnesota) to lose, and it came through for them and they found themselves in the playoffs. So I just kept pushing along."