Don’t look now, but cable TV news just wet its pants. The story it prays for every programming day tumbled from the lips of a clean-cut young district attorney Friday afternoon, against a backdrop of the gorgeous Colorado Rockies.

“After much deliberation, charges were filed today against Kobe Bean Bryant,” said Mark Hurlbert, the DA in Eagle County, Colo. “The defendant is charged with one count of sexual assault, a class three felony. . . .

“Penalties are (if convicted) prison terms: four years to life imprisonment.”

Brace yourselves, folks. Here we go. Two people have adulterous sex, one a young famous man, the other an even younger, non-famous woman. He says it was consensual, she says it wasn’t, and by the time this is over all of the following will be tried in America: race, power, sex, money, sports, fame, reputation and — oh, yes, somewhere along the way, Kobe Bryant, who was, until Friday afternoon, the shining star of the NBA, a seemingly impenetrable warrior dedicated to hard work, championships, wife and family.

Not anymore.

Bryant, the 24-year-old Lakers star, is now front and center in a feeding frenzy that began Friday with cable news interviewing anyone walking in front of the Staples Center, home of the Lakers, and won’t end until — barring a settlement, which seems unlikely — a verdict is announced that will screech the whole nation to a halt.

“I made the mistake of adultery,” Bryant said in a statement Friday. “I have to answer to my wife and my God for my actions that night. . . .

“Nothing that happened June 30th was against the will of the woman who now falsely accuses me. . . . “

How big a news story is this? Well, considering “adultery” and “false witness” are both in the Ten Commandments, you might call it a story of biblical proportions.

Or at least it will feel that way before it’s over.

Let’s face it. This is Bill/Monica, O.J./Nicole and Mike Tyson/Desiree Washington all rolled into one. In case you didn’t follow those cases, let me tell you right now what you can expect to hear in the near future. From those who defend Kobe: Hey, he admitted his mistake. It’s a private thing between him and his wife. This girl is a gold digger! What was she doing in his hotel room after midnight? She just met him. She obviously wanted to have sex — and now she wants his money!

From those who defend the girl: She was only 19! She was probably overwhelmed! These athletes think they can have anything they want! Why did he invite her up? Kobe knew better!

From those who argue race: Kobe won’t get a fair trial! This is a lily-white town in a lily-white ski resort! They’re trying to destroy Kobe because he’s a successful black superstar! It’s a white woman and a black man! He’s doomed already!

From those who argue morality: He’s committed a sin against God. Who knows what else he’s capable of?

You see where this is going. TV tents. All day radio. Helicopters. Cameras at the woman’s house. Hordes of reporters descending on the mountains. If Vail thinks it gets busy during ski season, wait’ll it gets a load of Media Circus.

And the sad thing is, this was all so avoidable.

Should have known better

I like Kobe. But he knows what I am about to say is true. He brought this on himself. I seriously doubt this girl threw herself at him. He has admitted he had sex with her. That is not a crime, but he’s smart enough to know it can lead to being charged with one.

The NBA is full of players who have been accused of assault by women — some accurately, some not. Bryant, who cultivated an image of a guy too busy with the important things in life to be distracted by the hoopla, certainly was aware of that. This incident, in particular, seemed easy to avoid.

After all, he was only in Colorado for a couple of days, to have knee surgery. Allegedly, he never knew this woman before he got there. She worked at the hotel where he was staying, got off work at 11 p.m. and allegedly was in his room by midnight. Does sex happen that fast in the Kobe Bryant universe?

“When everything comes clean, it will all be fine, you’ll see,” Bryant told the media earlier this month. “But you guys know me. I shouldn’t have to say anything.”

Perception is everything

Well, obviously, we don’t know him. And because of that, in many ways, Bryant has already been convicted. By polishing a certain reputation and now admitting to another, he has done the one thing the public finds hardest to accept: shatter his image. It doesn’t matter if the image was ever accurate.
(How many of you now believe Kobe never did anything like this before?) All that matters is that people swallowed one image, and now they are choking on it.

It makes for a tough rehab. It is not impossible that Kobe Bryant will survive this. If he is found innocent, sympathy could swing his way — he’s the celebrity falsely accused, etc., etc. — and adultery is awfully common in the jet-set world he lives in. His wife has issued a statement defending him. He has topflight lawyers and public relations people hammering away even as you read this.

But time is his enemy, because time moves slowly in trials like these. Motions. Delays. Finding jurors. Calling witnesses. There is no point in speculating — although it can’t be stopped. But this is the only thing you can say for sure.

A small bomb went off Friday in the Rocky Mountains, and the boom will be echoing in your ears for days, weeks and months.

And it will feel like years.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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