LOS ANGELES – Another Kobe conflict for the Lakers. Bryant has accused Karl Malone (search) of making a pass at his wife at a game last month.
Talking before Los Angeles' 105-98 win over Orlando on Sunday night, Bryant said he felt betrayed by a man he considered a friend.
"He was like a mentor, like a brother to me, so when something like that happens, you're upset, you're hurt," Bryant said.
He said he called Malone and told him, "Stay away from my wife. What's wrong with you? How could you?"
Malone was not available for comment Sunday, but agent Dwight Manley said Malone told him he had never made a pass at Bryant's wife, that he was surprised by the accusation, and that he then apologized to both Bryant and his wife for any remarks she might have considered inappropriate.
"Karl's response to Kobe's comments today is that he's a basketball player and not a soap opera actor and he doesn't intend to be involved in a personal soap opera," Manley said of his client.
Bryant said he had phoned Malone, who has a home near Bryant's in Newport Beach, after Bryant's wife, Vanessa, told him on Nov. 23 that Malone had made inappropriate comments to her that night at Staples Center.
"The comments that he said, I don't know any man in this room that wouldn't be upset about that," Bryant said in the Lakers' locker room. "The past month, myself, my wife, (Malone's wife) Kaye, we've had fun together.
"We've been out to their house, just joking around, giving each other a hard time, just clowning, being sarcastic with one another, baby-sitting kids and all that."
Asked if there might have been a misunderstanding, Bryant said, "What he said is what he said. I believe in my heart that it wasn't a misunderstanding.
"My wife wasn't going to stand for it. She felt uncomfortable being around him to the point that she felt she had to call his wife and tell her."
Bryant said Malone didn't deny making the comments, and told him during their phone conversation, "Aw, you know, I'm sorry if I said anything that was out of line."
Malone, 41, told the Lakers on Oct. 1 he was still recovering from arthroscopic surgery he underwent three months earlier on his right knee and wasn't ready to play. But he didn't rule out returning at some point this season or beyond. He apparently is ready to play again, but for whom is the question.
Manley said last Tuesday that Malone didn't plan to return to the Lakers because of comments Bryant made in a radio interview. Bryant had said the Lakers shouldn't have to look over their shoulders, wondering whether Malone was going to rejoin the team.
According to Manley, Malone was furious at Bryant, and that private, personal attacks were involved, but the agent would not elaborate.
Bryant, who in the past had a string of public feuds with Shaquille O'Neal (search) and also some run-ins with coach Phil Jackson (search), certainly did elaborate on his side of the conflict with Malone.
The second-leading scorer in NBA history, Malone opted out of his $1.65 million Lakers contract following last season, making him a free agent. He and Gary Payton, hoping to win their first league championship rings, took significant pay cuts to join Bryant and O'Neal in Los Angeles before last season.
Despite having four future Hall of Famers, the heavily favored Lakers lost to Detroit in the NBA Finals. Then the breakup began.
Jackson was let go, O'Neal demanded a trade and was dealt to Miami, Gary Payton was dealt to Boston, and Bryant tested the free agent market before signing a new seven-year, $136.4 million contract.
Despite his obvious anger toward Malone, Bryant said he would be willing able to separate his personal feelings if Malone rejoins the Lakers.
"If he could come back and play for us and help us out, I'm happy to embrace him as a teammate," Bryant said. `But only as a teammate."
Bryant is the defendant in a civil lawsuit accusing him of rape. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for pain, scorn and ridicule the woman says she has suffered since her encounter with Bryant at the Vail-area resort where she worked in June 2003. Bryant claims they had consensual sex.
After the win over Orlando, he again was asked about Malone, and said, "It has been difficult to deal with, but I've been through a lot and my family's been through a lot, and we're just trying to put it behind us and move on."
Bryant scored 23 points on 6-of-23 shooting from the floor, with eight rebounds and six assists in the Lakers' victory. Teammates Jumaine Jones hit seven of his eight 3-point shots and finished with 25 points, and Chris Mihm had 25 points and 14 rebounds.
Orlando's Steve Francis had 27 points, 13 assists and seven rebounds.