The outrage over Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" at the Super Bowl now seems somehow quaint, with all that's followed, both on and off the fields and hardwood.
Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest and some unruly Detroit fans, and Jason Giambi took care of that.
It hasn't all been bad, of course. The Detroit Pistons, without a marquee name on the roster, knocked off the star-laden Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Championships, providing new heroes for fans of teamwork and the image of the overachieving "blue-collar" players.
And the Boston Red Sox ended their "curse of the Bambino" by winning the World Series for the first time in 86 years. The victory helped keep the game tied to its storied past, emphasizing the strains of tradition and superstition that for many fans are part of what is best about baseball.
But those and the other highlights of the year seem to pale in comparison with the rape case against Bryant, the brawl between Indiana Pacers players and Detroit Piston fans during a game at Auburn Hills, Mich., that resulted in criminal charges, and alleged steroid use in baseball and track and field.
Bryant, the Lakers star, had a sexual assault charge hanging over his head for an encounter with a 19-year-old woman in a Colorado spa that the married six-time All-Star said was consensual. The incident occurred on June 30, 2003, when Bryant was in Colorado to have knee surgery.
Bryant said he was guilty only of the "sin of adultery, but not the crime of rape."
Prosecutors said they didn't agree, but they dropped the case on Sept. 1, saying the alleged victim didn't feel able to go through a trial following a series of leaks of court documents that were supposedly sealed. The documents revealed the woman's identity and provided details on her personal history.
"This prosecution team wants to try this case. I want to try this case and have the evidence heard by 12 citizens of this community," Eagle County District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said, announcing the decision. "However, the victim has informed us, after much of her own labored deliberation, that she does not want to proceed with this trial. For this reason, and this reason only, the case is being dismissed."
Afterward, Bryant made a statement in which he apologized to his family and to the woman and her family.
"Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did," said Bryant. "After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter."
Though the prosecutors dropped the criminal charges against him, Bryant's troubles aren't over. The woman filed a civil suit against him in Colorado, and has said she plans to file another against him in Los Angeles.
Though the charges tarnished Bryant's image as one of the league's good guys, it barely seemed to affect his play. In fact, he had some of his best games of the season on days when he had to attend hearings in the case.
But it deepened the long-simmering feud between him and Shaquille O'Neal, the other linchpin of a Lakers team that won three straight championships from 2000 to 2002. The Lakers center was infuriated that Bryant told police, when they first questioned him about the incident, that O'Neal allegedly paid women to keep quiet about extramarital liaisons Bryant said his teammate had.