US basketball superstar Kobe Bryant has made his first appearance in court to face charges he sexually assaulted a 19-year-old hotel worker.
Flanked by his lawyers, the 24-year-old Los Angeles Lakers player was quiet and showed no emotion at the hearing in Colorado’s Eagle County Court.
Judge Frederick Gannett set a preliminary hearing for October 9.
Bryant, who is married, has said he had consensual sex with the woman, but he denies assaulting her.
Bryant, who is free on bail, said almost nothing during the seven-minute hearing. He left the courthouse immediately and was expected to leave Colorado soon afterwards.
The hearing was held amid a media frenzy. Hundreds of reporters and photographers swamped the quiet mountain town and the brief hearing involving the five-time All Star was carried live on national cable TV networks.
Many spectators were outside the building, and there were scattered cheers and a shout of “Kobe is innocent!” from the crowd as Bryant arrived at court.
Also outside were a small city of satellite trucks and a dozen or so platforms for live television shots – precisely the sort of coverage Bryant had hoped to avoid when his lawyers asked Judge Gannett to allow him to skip the procedural hearing.
The judge denied the request, setting the stage for the circus-like event.
At times, preparation for Bryant’s arrival looked more like something for a head of state.
A media tent was erected outside the courthouse, authorities brought out the county’s only metal detector, and sheriff’s deputies were called in on overtime to keep order.
Along with the journalists came Bryant’s fans – people like Eric Tison, 30, who drove three hours from near Denver.
“I hope he’s innocent. I’m here to support him as a basketball player,” said Tison, wearing a Los Angeles Lakers No 8 jersey and hoping for an autograph.
“What goes on in his personal life now is taking away from the game.”