Kobe Bryant spoke out Sunday about his deteriorated relationship with Karl Malone, referring to Malone as an "older brother" and expressing deep-seated disappointment regarding Malone's alleged actions at a Laker game last month.
Bryant narrowed his eyes angrily numerous times while discussing further details of the fallout between the Newport Beach neighbors that stemmed from a cellphone conversation between Malone and Bryant's wife, Vanessa, during the Lakers' Nov. 23 game against the Milwaukee Bucks.
"He was like a mentor to me, an older brother to me," Bryant said before the Lakers' 105-98 victory Sunday against the Orlando Magic. "When something like that happens, you're upset, you're hurt. There's all those emotions tied up in one at the same time.
"We've had fun, myself, my wife, [Malone's wife] Kaye, him, we've had fun together. We've been at their house together, joking around, giving each other a hard time, just clowning and being sarcastic with one another, whatever. Baby-sitting the kids and all that."
Bryant's agent, Rob Pelinka, related more alleged contents Sunday of a cellphone conversation during the Nov. 23 game.
Malone was courtside at Staples Center for that game, invited on behalf of the Lakers, and Vanessa Bryant was across the court, a few rows behind the Laker bench.
Vanessa Bryant was on her cellphone with Kaye Malone, who did not attend the game and was at home in Newport Beach. Vanessa Bryant told Kaye Malone that Karl Malone's son, Karl Jr., looked bored during the game. Kaye Malone said to give Karl Malone a call on his cellphone and invite Karl Jr. to sit with the Bryant family.
Karl Malone responded improperly when Vanessa Bryant called him, Pelinka said.
According to Pelinka, Malone said at that point, " 'No, why don't you come sit by me and give me a big hug that would be on the front cover of every magazine in the country?' Vanessa said, 'What?' "
According to Pelinka, Malone also said he was "hunting for a young Mexican girl" in response to a question from Vanessa Bryant as to why he was wearing a cowboy hat. Vanessa Bryant is a Latina.
Kobe Bryant said he had strong words for Malone during a cellphone conversation from his car after the game.
"Stay away from my wife," Bryant recalled Sunday as saying to Malone. "What's wrong with you? How could you?
"He said, 'I'm sorry if I said anything, if I was out of line, I'll apologize.' What he said is what he said. This thing went on for a while. My wife isn't going to sit there and exaggerate something or blow something out of proportion that doesn't need to be blown out of proportion. She felt uncomfortable being around the dude to the point where she felt like she had to call his wife and tell his wife, 'Your husband's acting out of control right now.' "
Malone's agent, Dwight Manley, said Malone did not act inappropriately.
"Karl did not do what he was accused of," Manley said. "He never hit on [Bryant's] wife. This is a soap opera that is affecting the best power forward ever and a gigantic franchise. Karl did not want to get sucked into it as much as he has. It's all the Bryants' soap opera. It's a personal matter between Kobe and his wife and Karl got drawn into it like a pawn."
Bryant said he could separate "personal from business" if Laker General Manager Mitch Kupchak and owner Jerry Buss went through with a plan to meet with Malone and Manley in the next week or two.
The Lakers are still interested in retaining the services of Malone, who has recovered from off-season knee surgery and is deciding whether to retire or return for a 20th season. The San Antonio Spurs are considered the front-runners to sign Malone, 41.
"If Mitch feels like and Buss felt like he could come back and play for us and help us out, that's a decision they're going to have to make," Bryant said.
Pelinka said Bryant and Malone were so tight that Malone confided to Bryant before the season that he would not return to play this season.
"He said, 'Hey Kobe, I'm done playing ... I really want to focus on my family. It's time for me to walk away from the game,' " Pelinka said. "Kobe became emotional about it and said, 'Wow, that's big news. If that's your decision, I wish you all the best. I hope it goes well for you and your family.' "
Malone's agent said Malone might have said he was close to retiring, but did not go beyond that.
"Karl was still hurt at the time," Manley said. "He was telling everybody he was leaning toward retiring."
Earlier last week, Bryant apologized after Malone interpreted Bryant's comments on a radio interview to mean that he was acting as a distraction to the Lakers while deciding if he wanted to play again.
Bryant did not offer any apologies Sunday night. "I don't have anything to apologize for, as far as from what took place down there [on Nov. 23]," Bryant said. "The comments he said, I don't know any man in this room that would not be upset about that."