DOCUMENT: Investigation, Sports

Kobe Bryant Assist Numbers Down

NBA star closed charitable foundation earlier this year

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AUGUST 13--Just when Kobe Bryant needs the good press that philanthropy can buy, Internal Revenue Service records show that the NBA star this year shuttered his charitable foundation, which once supported organizations emphasizing "self-respect, morals, values and structure," The Smoking Gun has learned.

Perhaps Bryant, who's facing a sexual assault charge, needed the spare cash to pay for wife Vanessa's pricey baubles.

Launched in March 1998, the Kobe Bryant Foundation listed its purpose as the "sponsorship of programs to benefit children and prevent child abuse." During the group's five years of existence, the largest single grant recipient was a Hollywood nonprofit that helped kids who were "born addicted to drugs, have experienced sexual and physical abuse, and have even witnessed violent crimes."

The dissolution was revealed in a tax return covering the first three months of 2003 (that document was first made available by the IRS in late-July). Bryant donated more than $300,000 to various charities before shutting his foundation.

But the Los Angeles Laker's contributions began plummeting in 2001, the year he married teenager Vanessa Laine. That year, the athlete's foundation gave a measly $10,000. After donating no money in 2002, Bryant this year disbanded the foundation after distributing its remaining $38,673 to three groups, including the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

From its inception, the Bryant foundation listed the athlete's sister Sharia and mother Pam as directors of the group and the NBA star as its president. But the relatives--who were paid a combined $27,500 for their services--were no longer included on the foundation's board in its 2002 tax return. Bryant's April 2001 marriage to Laine, which caused an estrangement with his family, apparently triggered the pair's departure from the foundation.