Kobe Bryant opens up about how rape charges changed him

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It is the fork in the road for the public perception of Kobe Bryant.

Back in 2003 he was charged with sexual assault of a hotel employee in Eagle, Colorado (where he had been for knee surgery). Kobe admitted infidelity in his marriage but denied this was a sexual assault. Eventually the charges were dismissed (it never went to full trial).

Irrespective of the court result, this changed how many people thought of Kobe and colors his image to this day. He lost numerous endorsements. It changed how he and Nike marketed the Kobe brand — he stared in a “hate me but respect my game” series of ads with Nike and publicly embraced the driven side of his personality in a way he had not before. He was fine with being everyone’s villan (outside of Los Angeles, where he was always largely supported).

His popularity eventually came around as people did respect his game, and after a couple of titles without Shaquille O’Neal Kobe is now the biggest international star the NBA has. His fame transcends basketball. He is an icon of the sport, regardless of what people think of him.

The Colorado experience changed Kobe as a person, too.

Kobe doesn’t often speak of those times but he did in a fantastic interview on Yahoo with Graham Bensinger, part of the In Depth series. (We will have other parts of the interview later today, but go check it out.)

“The challenge is who you are as a person, not only individually but as a family….” Bryant said. “There’s times where it just seems like days are just endless, like this is never going to end. This feeling, this dark time is just never going to be over. Once you go through something like that, you can’t help but be different. You can’t help but have a better sense of who you are.”

What were the lessons?

“As a person it just really teaches you how to let go and how to trust and not try to control everything. And that decreases your stress level ten-fold,” Kobe said.

Through it all, Bryant kept playing, flying back to Los Angeles just before game time and performing well for the Lakers. There were calls in some quarters for Kobe to stop playing but he said he needed that escape.

“I’m not going to stop playing,” Kobe said. “I’m not just because you guys think I should stop playing, just because you guys think that I won’t perform as well. I’m going to show you. Truthfully, it was stress release for me.”

Kobe said he has spoken with Ray Lewis, the superstar NFL linebacker who faced murder charges (which were dismissed).

“Other players can’t relate to that sort of stuff, to that type of pressure,” Bryant said. “That’s real pressure. That’s life pressure. It’s not hitting the game winning shot. If you make it, you win. If you miss it – no. That’s not pressure.”

Isaiah Thomas wants Celtics to sign free agents, reportedly they are not looking to trade him (yet)

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The Boston Celtics made a huge leap forward this season: They got the No. 1 seed in the East and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. For a team on the rise, that’s impressive.

However, as soon as they landed the No. 1 pick in this draft, a big question started to bubble up:

What is the future of Isaiah Thomas with this team? Which is a strange thing to say about a guy who averaged 28.9 points per game and was All-NBA this season, but here we are.

First, the Celtics are not looking to trade IT this summer as some have suggested, reports Sean Deveny of the Sporting News.

That starts with All-Star Isaiah Thomas, whose name has lately been the subject of trade speculation. But league sources indicate that any talk of dealing Thomas is strictly speculation at this point — the Celtics have had no such discussions. Not yet, at least.

The challenge for the Celtics seems to be this: If they draft Markelle Fultz No. 1 (as is expected by everyone around the league), then what is the future for Thomas? Do you want to pay Thomas max money just as he turns 29 when you have a stud young point guard coming up behind him?

That led to talk of extending Thomas this summer with the team’s cap space (which assumes they do not sign Gordon Hayward). Except Thomas would rather the money be spent on free agents than himself, as he told Chris Forsberg of ESPN.

“We need the best possible player that’s gonna help us win, and I’m with that,” said Thomas. “Anything Danny and this organization need me to do to help bring even more talent to this city, I’m all for that. I want to win a championship and being so close to getting to the Finals, that makes you want it that much more.

“I’m all help if they need it. I’ll be around.”

Nothing is certain in the NBA, but here is the most likely outcome of the Isaiah Thomas situation: They keep him, they draft Markelle Fultz, they do not extend Thomas (whether they land Hayward or not), and they see how it all fits together for a season. Then they make a decision on Thomas in the summer of 2018. The bottom line is he may well have more value to the Celtics than another team, and while he’s certainly getting a raise from the $6.3 million, he will make next season he may fall short of the max, and in a zone where the Celtics are willing to keep him.

In pure basketball terms, the Celtics may be hesitant to spend on Thomas, but he is also the most popular player on the team by a mile. Letting him go is not that simple.

There are a lot of questions to be answered between now and next summer when it comes to IT.

Spurs’ David Lee will not need surgery on knee, will be ready for training camp in the fall

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David Lee was certainly not going to swing the series against the Warriors one way or another. However, the veteran forward with a varried offensive game still has an NBA role in the right setting.

He has a $1.6 million player option with the Spurs next season, and whatever he decides it’s good news that he will not need surgery to repair the knee injury that sidelined him in the Conference Finals. From Ramona Shelburn of ESPN.

Good news to end the week. David Lee doesn’t need surgery on his knee, per his agent Mark Bartelstein. He’s got a sprained patellar tendon that should heal in about six weeks.

As a big off the bench, David Lee can still help the right team. His game has limitations, but put him in the right situation and he can help. It’s just that due to injury, the Spurs had to ask more of him in the playoffs than he can deliver anymore.

Draymond Green says Warriors are “more relaxed” this season

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Last year, the Warriors entered the NBA Finals with the weight of expectations: Defending NBA champions, 73 regular season wins, if they got the title they would leap up the ladder of all-time great teams, lose and it would be a massive let down. We all know what happened from there.

The Warriors are back in the Finals, taking on the Cavaliers for the third year in a row — but this year things are going to be different. Mostly because of Kevin Durant changing the equation. But also the Warriors mindset is better if you ask Draymond Green. Which Mark Spears of ESPN did.

This makes sense. The Warriors to a man denied the pressure and how physically/mentally taxed they were by the chase for 73, but it clearly wore on them physically and mentally. Green was thrashing about and drawing techs, over-reacting to everything (although sometimes that feels like his default setting). Curry was injured but also tired. The Warriors opened the door, LeBron James and the Cavaliers stormed through it.

Will a rested Warriors make a difference this time around? Maybe. But again, Durant matters more than rest.

Report: Harlem Globetrotters to resume series with Washington Generals

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The Harlem Globetrotters dropped the Washington Generals as an opponent a couple years ago – a sad development for basketball traditionalists.

But the sport’s most-lopsided rivalry is returning.

Darren Rovell of ESPN:

Sources said the Generals will be put into rotation to play the Globetrotters again as early as this summer and will take on a greater life than before as the lovable losers.

This just feels right. There’s a spirit about the Generals that complements the Globetrotters so well.