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
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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.

Celtics lock-up Al Horford with two-year, $20 million extension

Washington Wizards v Boston Celtics
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Brad Stevens has locked up the core of this Celtics team — the one that reached the Finals last season and has the best record in the NBA to start this one — through the summer of 2025.

They did that with a two-year, $20 million extension (that kicks in next season). The story was broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and later confirmed by the Celtics.

Horford, 36, is making $26.5 million this season, the final year of a four-year, $109 million deal he signed in Philadelphia. While he never fit well as a stretch four next to Joel Embiid, he has worked well as a role player in Boston’s front line. The Celtics have locked him up at a deal closer to the league average and about his value now, at an average of $10 million a season (both years are fully guaranteed). It’s a fair deal for both sides, and a low enough number that if Father Time starts to win the race it doesn’t hurt Boston much.

With Robert Williams still out following knee surgery, Horford has seen his minutes increase to start this season but he has handled it well, averaging  10.9 points and 6.3 rebounds a game, shooting 55.5% overall and 48.8% from 3-point range. Joe Mazzulla will likely try to get Horford some rest down the line when he can, but for now he’s leaning on the veteran.

And the team has rewarded him.

Donovan says Lonzo Ball’s recovery has ‘been really slow’

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
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Watching the finger-pointing and heated moments between Bulls’ defenders on Wednesday night as Devin Booker carved them up to the tune of 51 points, one thought was how much they miss Lonzo Ball‘s defense at the point of attack.

Ball had a second surgery on his knee back in September and the team said he would be out at “least a few months.” It’s coming up on a few months, so Donovan gave an update on Ball and his recovery, and the news was not good for Bulls’ fans. Via Rob Schaefer at NBC Sports Chicago:

“It’s been really slow,” Donovan said when asked about Ball’s rehab. “I’m just being honest.”

Donovan added Ball has not necessarily suffered a setback. The Bulls knew this would be an arduous process. But he also noted that Ball is “not even close” to being cleared for contact or on-court work.

Ball had his first knee surgery in January and the expectation was he would be back and 100% by the playoffs. However, Ball’s knee didn’t respond well, and he was eventually ruled out for the season. Things didn’t improve over the summer, which led to the second surgery. How much do they miss him? The Bulls were 22-13 with him last season, and he averaged 13.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 5.1 assists, a game. However, it was his defense that was most crucial.

There is no timeline for his return. Which is not good news for Chicago.

PBT Podcast: Timberwolves without KAT, get Luka some help

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Minnesota has stumbled out of the gate this season, and now they will be without Karl-Anthony Towns for around a month with a calf strain. Just how much trouble are the Timberwolves in?

Corey Robinson from NBC Sports and myself discuss that and then get into Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s Team USA vs. Team World matchup — does Evan Fournier get the world team in trouble? Who guards whom?

From there, it’s time for Corey’s Jukebox and some New Orleans jazz for Zion Williamson. Some Mavericks’ talk follows that — Dallas has put a big load on the shoulders of Luka Doncic, and while he’s playing like an MVP it’s a long-term concern for the Mavericks and their fans.

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.

LeBron calls out reporters for asking him about Kyrie Irving but not Jerry Jones

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Within days of Kyrie Irving being suspended by the Nets in the wake of a Tweet promoting an antisemitic film (and his initial refusal to apologize for it), Irving’s former teammate LeBron James was asked about it. He had to deal with the controversy, saying, “I don’t condone any hate to any kind. To any race.”

At the end of his press conference Wednesday night after the Lakers beat the Trail Blazers, LeBron scolded the assembled press for not asking him about the 1957 photo that surfaced of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones outside North Little Rock High School while white students protested the integration of the school when they had been quick to ask about Irving.

“When I watched Kyrie talk, and he says, `I know who I am, but I want to keep the same energy when we’re talking about my people and the things they’ve been through,’ and that Jerry Jones photo is one of those moments that our people, Black people, have been through in America. And I feel like as a Black man, as a Black athlete, someone with power and with a platform, when we do something wrong or something that people don’t agree with, it’s on every single tabloid, every single news coverage. It’s on the bottom ticker. It’s asked about every single day.

“But it seems like to me that the whole Jerry Jones situation, the photo, and I know it was years and years ago, and we all make mistakes, I get it. It seems like it’s just been buried under, like, `Oh, it happened. OK. We just move on.’ And I was just kind of disappointed that I haven’t received that question from you guys.”

Irving and LeBron were teammates in Cleveland and won a ring together, there was a direct connection (plus Irving had been linked to the Lakers in trade rumors over the summer).

However, there was a connection between LeBron and the Cowboys as well. LeBron was for many years a very public Cowboys fan (despite growing up in Browns territory). It came up as recently as October, when LeBron was on Instagram Live promoting his HBO show with Maverick Carter “The Shop” and he said he had stopped rooting for the Cowboys in the wake of Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protests, “There’s just a lot of things that were going on when guys were kneeling. Guys were having freedom of speech and wanting to do it in a very peaceful manner…. The organization was like, ‘If you do that around here, then you will never play for this franchise again.’ I just didn’t think that was appropriate.”

When asked about the photo, Jones said he was a curious 14-year-old who was watching and didn’t understand the magnitude of the moment or situation.