01.17.13

Why the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant and Wife Vanessa Are Staying Together

Kobe Bryant and wife Vanessa were destined for Splitsville. But both are loners, and breaking up turned out to be too hard to do.

NBA star Kobe Bryant and his fur-clad wife, Vanessa, were hand in hand and all smiles as they exited the Warner Brothers–InStyle Golden Globes party in Hollywood this past Sunday. “It’s so good to see them together again,” said Jessie Jameson, a longtime Bryant fan who snapped a photo of the two that night while outside the event. “They really belong together.”

While many social-media outlets appeared stunned last week by the news that the Los Angeles Lakers star and his wife had dropped their divorce action, those close to the couple say this was always the inevitable end for the two.

Tongues were wagging in December 2011, when Vanessa Bryant filed for divorce after 10 years of marriage to the 34-year-old superstar shooting guard. She cited irreconcilable differences, but various news reports also pointed to Bryant’s alleged extramarital affairs, including with a Playboy model as well as with one of the producers of the Kardashians’ reality show. The wives of other NBA players were said to have informed Vanessa of her husband’s relationships with several women over the years.

“Vanessa isn’t the warmest person or the nicest one,” says one former Lakers wife. “I think we enjoyed telling her about his affairs whenever we could.”

In 2003 Bryant was charged with sexually assaulting an employee at a Colorado hotel. He denied the allegations, and charges were dropped after the woman refused to testify. But friends close to the couple say his roving eye kept roving.

“Anyone with sense would have shut it down after the mess he encountered in Colorado,” says one NBA player. “But Kobe kept it going, convinced he was above it all. Many players cheat, but most don’t get charged with sexual assault.”

Sources say the two were bound to face extraordinary odds given their young ages when they married (he was 22; she was 18) combined with the strain of living under the constant glare of the harsh Hollywood spotlight.

But some of the very qualities that may make their relationship unlikely also help explain why they are back together again now. Bryant is a loner, often described by associates as detached from his Lakers teammates and unable or unwilling to form close relationships with the people around him. (For his first tweet on Twitter earlier this year Bryant wrote with some self-knowedge: “The antisocial has become social.” (@kobebryant)) Vanessa is said to be equally distant, with few close personal friends as well. After the two met on the set of a Snoop Dogg video shoot, where Vanessa was a backup dancer. She, then still a teen, instantly became his closest confidante and companion through the many storms of his career.

“You have to remember Kobe met Vanessa when she was like 16 or something,” says Fred Mwangaguhunga, editor of MediaTakeOut.com, a top African-American entertainment website. “They’ve been together ever since. They have a lot of history together, both good and bad. I’m surprised she stayed when she could have walked away with more than $100 million. She must love him.”

Others aren’t as sure. Sources close to the Lakers organization say Vanessa relished her role as “queen bee” of the Lakers wives club and of the NBA as a whole. A divorce would have robbed her of that envied status and the many perks that go along with it.

“Everyone knows its about much more than the money with this life,” says one well-known NBA wife. “Most of these guys cheat with other women, but the payoff [for the wife] is you get this great lifestyle. You get to attend Golden Globe parties, drive the newest cars, and wear the finest clothes. It’s hard to walk away from that no matter what, and most women don’t and won’t.”

Indeed, Vanessa would have gained much from a financial settlement with Bryant, whose annual income is reportedly close to $52 million, if the divorce had proceeded. The two never signed a prenuptial agreement, a decision NBA icon Michael Jordan, among others, was said to have advised against in 2001.

After the two met, Vanessa, then still a teen, instantly became Kobe’s closet confidante and companion.
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Kobe Bryant’s daughters, Natalia Diamante Bryant (left), 9, and Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant, 6, attend a basketball game with Vanessa Bryant in December. (Alex Gallardo/AP)

California attorney Andrew L. Botros determined that under state law Bryant would have been obliged to pay somewhere near $365,000 per month in child support for his two daughters and somewhere close to $1 million a month in spousal support. Vanessa would have also been entitled to half of all the property the two acquired since they married.

“I’m not sure what either party ever really wanted in the marriage, but I’m sure Kobe’s happy not to have to pay her that [estimated total] $100 million dollars now,” says Mwangaguhunga. “No one want to let go of that much money.”

Lakers sources confirm that Bryant was none too pleased with the major financial losses he’d incur as result of the divorce. But they also stress that wasn’t the only factor to lead to the couple’s reuniting. Bryant and the Lakers have had a rough year—which included the firing of coach Mike Brown—and Bryant is often equally blamed for the team’s successes and failures.

“Kobe has a lot of pressure on him—that’s no fun to handle alone. You basically have two people who have no friends or close relationships with other people,” says a friend close to Bryant’s family. “They don’t have that great of a relationship with their own families either. So that only leaves each other. They are each other’s only friend in the end. It just took a year for them both to realize it.”