Vanessa Bryant testifies Kobe crash photos turned grief to horror

Opening statements in Vanessa Bryant's lawsuit over graphic photos taken by first responders at the scene of the helicopter crash that killed her husband, basketball legend Kobe Bryant, their teenage daughter and seven others will begin today in downtown
Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
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LOS ANGELES — Vanessa Bryant testified Friday that she only beginning to grieve the loss of her husband basketball star Kobe Bryant and their 13-year-old daughter Gianna when she was faced with the fresh horror of learning that sheriff’s deputies and firefighters had shot and shared photos of their bodies at the site of the helicopter crash that killed them.

“I felt like I wanted to run, run down the block and scream,” she said, her tears turning to sobs and her voice quickening. “It was like the feeling of wanting to run down a pier and jump into the water. The problem is I can’t escape. I can’t escape my body.”

During her three hours on the witness stand in a Los Angeles federal court, where she is suing LA County for invasion of privacy over the pictures, Bryant said she had fought to get through both public and private memorials for her loved ones and seven others who were killed Jan. 26, 2020, and thought she was ready to really begin the grieving process about a month later. She was with friends and her surviving daughters, and holding her 7-month-old baby, when she received a call about a Los Angeles Times story on the crash-site photos.

“I bolted out of the house and around to the side so my girls wouldn’t see,” she said. “I was blindsided again, devastated, hurt. I trusted them. I trusted them not to do these things.”

Evidence presented at trial showed that a sheriff’s deputy showed a photo of Bryant’s body to a bartender as he drank, spurring an official complaint from another man drinking nearby, and that firefighters shared them with each other at an awards banquet. Others shared them with spouses. An attorney for the county said the photos had been taken only because they were essential for assessing the site moments after the crash, and that when LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva learned they were being shared, he demanded they all be deleted.

No photos emerged publicly, but Vanessa Bryant said she has constant worry that some still might.

“I live in fear every day of being on social media and these popping up,” she testified. “I live in fear of my daughters being on social media and these popping up.”

She said the thought keeps her awake at night as she lies next to her 3-year-old and her 5-year-old, and sometimes leads to panic attacks in which she can’t breathe.

Under cross-examination from J. Mira Hashmall, the lawyer representing LA County at the trial, Bryant testified that she had not received any medical diagnosis of having had panic attacks, or any mental health disorder, nor had she taken any medications for them.

She said she had talked to a therapist for about 18 months after the crash, but had not since.

“I feel like sometimes it helps,” Bryant said, “but sometimes it’s completely draining.”

Hashmall spent much of her 90-minute cross-examination going through the business roles Bryant now plays, including acting as president of her husband’s multimedia company, Granity Studios, overseeing the publication of one book he wrote and helping to finish and publish another, heading the foundation started for Kobe and Gianna, and establishing several other companies.

Hashmall suggested that Bryant’s ability to do all of this meant she was functioning well and was not overcome with fear and anxiety.

“It sounds like on top of everything else you’re juggling a business empire,” Hashmall said at one point.

“For me, it’s a labor of love,” said Bryant, who remained calm and composed during cross-examination.

She cried frequently, and laughed occasionally, during the questioning of her attorney Luis Li, who had her describe her life with her “proud girl-dad” husband and their daughters.

“He was just such a beautiful and devoted father,” she said.

Bryant chronicled the day of the crash, her anguish, and her frustration at trying to learn whether her husband and daughter were still alive after she initially heard from an assistant that there were five survivors.

She described Sheriff Villanueva coming into a room where she waited at Lost Hills sheriff’s station and confirming that her husband and daughter had been killed. He asked if there was anything he could do for her.

“I told him, if you can’t bring my babies back, then please secure the area,” Bryant said. “I’m concerned about paparazzi.”

“Did the sheriff tell you one of his deputies had already gone to the hill to take close-up pictures of crash victims?” Li asked.

“No,” Bryant responded.

During cross-examination, Hashmall said the deputy, Doug Johnson, who hiked through tough terrain into the hills in northern Los Angeles County to the crash site and shot the photos that were later shared, was only trying to use them to assess the situation.

“You can understand why he would want the same information you did,” Hashmall said.

“I don’t think you need to take close-up photos of people to determine how many people are on an aircraft,” Bryant replied. “I think he could have just counted.”

Bryant’s side rested its case after her testimony, which came on the eighth day of the trial.

Pelican’s Green says Zion ‘dominated the scrimmage pretty much’

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The Zion hype train keeps right on rolling. First were the reports he was in the best shape of his life, then he walked into media day and it looked like he is.

Now Zion has his own hype man in Pelicans coach Willie Green, who said he dominated the first day of team scrimmages. Via Andre Lopez of ESPN.

“Z looked amazing,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said on Wednesday afternoon. “His strength, his speed. He dominated the scrimmage pretty much.”

“What stood out was his force more than anything,” Green said. “He got down the floor quickly. When he caught the ball, he made quick decisions. Whether it was scoring, finding a teammate. It was really impressive to see.”

Reach for the salt shaker to take all this with — it’s training camp scrimmages. Maybe Zion is playing that well right now — he’s fully capable, he was almost an All-NBA player in 2020-21 (eighth in forward voting) before his foot injury — but we need to see it against other teams. In games that matter. Then we’ll need to see it over a stretch of time.

If Zion can stay healthy this season, if his conditioning is where everyone says it is, he could be in for a monster season. Combine that with CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram and a strong supporting cast in New Orleans, and the Pelicans could surprise a lot of people — and be fun to watch.

 

PBT Podcast: What’s next for Celtics, Suns? Should NBA end one-and-done?

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NBA training camps just opened and teams have yet to play a preseason game, but already two contenders are dealing with problems.

The Celtics have the suspension of coach Ime Udoka as a distraction, plus defensive anchor center Robert Williams will miss at least the start of the season following another knee surgery.

The Suns have the distraction of a suspended owner who is selling the team, plus Jae Crowder is out and demanding a trade, and Deandre Ayton does not seem happy.

Corey Robinson of NBC Sports and myself go through all the training camp news, including the wilder ones with the Lakers and Nets, breaking down what to take away from all that — plus how good Zion Williamson and James Harden look physically.

Then the pair discusses the potential of the NBA doing away with the one-and-done role and letting 18-year-olds back in the game — is that good for the NBA?

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Report: Price tag on Phoenix Suns could be more than $3 billion

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Clippers - Game Six
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In 2004, Robert Sarver bought the Phoenix Suns for a then-record $401 million.

When Sarver sells the team now — pushed to do so following the backlash prompted by an NBA report that found an 18-year pattern of bigotry, misogyny, and a toxic workplace — he is going to make a massive profit.

The value of the Suns now is at $3 billion or higher, reports Ramona Shelburne and Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

There will be no shortage of bidders for the team, with league sources predicting a franchise valuation of more than $3 billion now that revenue has rebounded following the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and with a new television rights deal and CBA on the horizon. Sarver purchased the team for just over $400 million in 2004.

Saver currently owns 35% of the Suns (the largest share), but reports say his role as managing partner allows him to sell the entire team (the minority owners have to comply, although they would make a healthy profit, too). Sarver also decides who to sell the team to, not the NBA or other owners.

Early rumors of buyers have included Larry Ellison (founder of Oracle), Bob Iger (former Disney CEO), Laurene Powell Jobs (widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, she has a 20% share of the Washington Wizards), and others. There have been no reports of talks yet, and Sarver does not need to be on a rushed timeline.

Meanwhile, a contending Suns team tries to focus on the season despite the owner selling the team, Jae Crowder not being in training camp and pushing for a trade, and Deandre Ayton does not sound happy to be back with the Suns.

Steve Nash on his relationship with Kevin Durant: ‘We’re good’

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In an effort to gain leverage for a trade this offseason, Kevin Durant threw down a “either the coach and GM are gone or I am” ultimatum.

Now coach Steve Nash (and GM Sean Marks) are back in Brooklyn, on the same team and trying to build a contender together. Awkward? Not if you ask Nash, which is what Nick Friedell of ESPN did.

“We’re fine,” Nash said after the Nets’ first official practice of the season on Tuesday. “We’re good. Ever since we talked, it’s been like nothing’s changed. I have a long history with Kevin. I love the guy. Families have issues. We had a moment and it’s behind us. That’s what happens. It’s a common situation in the league.

“We all were hurting, seething, to go through what we went through last year, not being able to overcome all that adversity. Sometimes you lose perspective because you expect to win, but the reality is we were able to talk and discuss what we can improve on from last year. And also keep perspective. We went through a ton of stuff.”

First off, what else was Nash going to say? He knows the power dynamic in the NBA, and Durant has far more leverage than he does — not enough to get Nash fired this summer, but still more than the coach.

Second, Nash could be telling the truth from his perspective. NBA players and coaches understand better than anyone this is a business and things are rarely personal. Grudges are not held like fans think they are (most of the time). Nash saw Durant’s move for what it was — an effort to create pressure — and can intellectually shrug it off, reach out to KD and talk about the future.

What this brings into question was one of the Nets’ biggest issues last season — mental toughness and togetherness. Do the Nets have the will to fight through adversity and win as a team? Individually Durant, Kyrie Irving, Nash and others have shown that toughness in the past, but as a team it was not that hard to break the will of the Nets last season. Are their relationships strong enough, is their will strong enough this season?

It feels like we will find out early. If the wheels come off the Nets’ season, it feels like it will happen early and by Christmas things could be a full-on dumpster fire. Or maybe Nash is right and they are stronger than we think.