Do Marriage and Pro Athletes Mix?

Aug. 8 —, 2003 -- In his brilliant career, 24-year-old basketball star Kobe Bryant has done lots of things most NBA players have never done. Now as he fights charges of sexual assault, he has admitted doing something that one woman speculates nearly every NBA player has done or at least thought about: Cheat on his wife.

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"I don't think there's a single faithful man in the NBA. And if he is out there, then his wife has a very short leash on him," according to Tami Anderson.

An exaggeration? Sure. But Anderson is talking from her own experience and pain.

The Kobe Bryant case has focused attention on the sexual exploits — real and alleged — of professional athletes while on the road. How do ballplayers deal with the enormous temptations they face while away from home?

"I knew there were groupies, but I didn't pay much attention to them," says Angela Wilder, who, like Tami, was once married to an NBA star. "I was kind of like Seabiscuit, you know, I was the Seabiscuit NBA wife and I just kept those blinders on," said Wilder.

Anderson and Wilder — both beautiful and intelligent women — found out the hard way that for professional athletes, life on the road can be an open invitation to stray.

"Everybody's fair game. With this lifestyle, it's bound to happen," Anderson said.

The lifestyle of an NBA star means a lot of time away from home, and temptation lurks inside each hotel lobby and at every nearby bar or club.

'Play Ball, Get Laid, Sleep In'

Elizabeth Kaye has seen the dance between athletes and their female admirers. A veteran journalist who wrote the book Ain't No Tomorrow: Kobe, Shaq, and the Making of a Lakers Dynasty, Kaye says there's a motto that summarizes the NBA life in six easy words. "Play ball, get laid, sleep in."

And Kaye says the players have a certain type of woman they like. "Just make it easy and be pretty and compliant and shut up about it, basically," she said.

Big-time sports figures have always attracted their share of good-humored, if over-eager, women. But the underside of the sports-groupie scene can be blatant and exploitative.

Lynda Huey, a lover and confidante of the late Wilt Chamberlain, says she understands the mindset. Chamberlain, the 7-foot-tall NBA great, scored as frequently off the court as he did on it. In one memoir, the never-married Chamberlain boasted that he'd had sex with more than 20,000 women. Huey says, "It was exciting and I look at it now and see that it was destructive to me. It didn't allow me to form intimate relationships."

Now a highly-regarded physical therapist in Los Angeles, Huey is at work on a new autobiography. According to Huey, "Wilt got stuck in that lifestyle, the on-the-road lifestyle. Given a chance to have a real relationship with someone, he would decide no, I have to go be the legend again, and have my seven women over the next month."

Charges and No Apology

Unlike Huey, Wilder thought she had formed a real relationship with her NBA husband. In the early 1980s, she was a sunny, stunning cheerleader at the University of North Carolina who fell in love with basketball star James Worthy.

"He was the ball player, I was the varsity cheerleader and we were in heaven," Wilder said.

When James turned pro and became a Laker, Wilder moved to Los Angeles with him. They were married in 1984. They had, she thought, a blissful life of love, family, and contentment. Then came the day her life was transformed.

Worthy was arrested in 1990 and charged with soliciting a prostitute.

Wilder says she can't recall how Worthy apologized to her. "I really have a very fuzzy memory about ever hearing, 'I'm sorry.' What sticks out in my mind is him saying, 'I've put myself in a very bad situation,' which I think speaks to the level of narcissism that often exists in the world of these men," she said.

The Groupies

Tami Anderson thought she understood the world of celebrity: she starred on the second season of the MTV series The Real World before falling in love with Kenny Anderson, who was then playing for the New Jersey Nets. But her first trip on the road with him proved to be quite a revelation.

"There'd be women waiting in the lobby awfully surprised to see me. But there'd be at least 30 girls, just camped out waiting for the bus to arrive — I mean just skimpily dressed, you know: miniskirts, halter tops, you know, cleavage — for days," she said.

Anderson assumed her husband was faithful, but at first she says she was careful not to inquire too much about his life on the road. She said, "It's like, if I ask you, you may tell me the truth. And it's something I'm not ready to hear."

When the couple went out to dinner one night, however, Anderson says she got to wondering if she might not be the only woman in her husband's life. "The maitre d' walked over to us and said, 'Oh, it's so good to see you again. I'm so glad that you're here.' It was a restaurant that I had never been in," she said.

One year later, they separated and eventually divorced.

When Players Are Players

Anderson has penned a screenplay called The Players' Wives. Wilder, who is writing a book, wonders how an NBA husband with a new family might rationalize his infidelity.

He might think along these lines, she said: "I'm not getting it at home like I was getting it before I put the ring on the finger. So I'm just going to go out here and get it, where I don't have to be attached. You know: clean, take care of my business and be done with it." But, she added, "As we see it's not that simple."

The way Wilder sees it, it's a husband's responsibility to remain true, not a wife's duty to keep him in line.

She doesn't subscribe to Tami's feeling that most NBA husbands need to be on a short leash to keep them from straying. In fact Wilder says, "You might as well have a dog, if that's the case, because you need to put a leash on a dog and make sure it's not around other dogs when it's in heat."

Wilder does feel there are faithful husbands in the NBA and disagrees with Anderson's feeling that "all men are dogs."

Kenny Anderson and James Worthy declined to comment for 20/20's report.

On a Leash?

Some basketball fans feel that no NBA player is on a tighter leash than Doug Christie of the Sacramento Kings. His wife, Jackie Christie, says she's lived with the fears and doubts of other NBA wives.

She says, "You will always feel some thought in the back of your mind. You're constantly reading about and seeing it and wondering, 'Could that happen to me?'"

So for the Christies, constant togetherness helps make love last. During the basketball season, Jackie leaves the couple's three children with her mother and goes on the road with Doug. She's in his room, on his flight, at his side, nearly 24/7.

But Doug says he wouldn't stray, even if Jackie weren't with him.

"That comes a dime a dozen. I was there, I did that, I saw it all and the good thing is that it shows me what I don't want to do," he said.

Before every game, Doug has a hand-written message of love — poetry, or a perhaps a drawing — delivered from the locker room and waiting for Jackie as she picks up her ticket. And even during the game itself, they stay connected.

In fact, he's signaled "I Love You" to Jackie more than 60 times in a single game. It may cut against the grain of sports' macho culture, but Doug says he and Jackie simply want to be together as much as possible.

Doug says, "We try to have fun in every single thing that we do. If I was to go out to a strip club, I'd take my wife with me. … That's the type of relationship that we're trying to have."

Some say that that type of relationship is too close for comfort. One sports columnist has written that a Doug Christie jersey is the perfect gag gift at a bachelor party. But the couple shrug off the doubters.

And Doug doesn't mind when he hears other guys say things like "he's whipped." "If you could feel as good as I feel to be whipped, you'd be whipped, too."

It certainly feels better than getting sued — as Kenny Anderson has been, by a woman who claims they had an affair while he was still married.

Tami Anderson says her husband would give her expensive gifts — including cars — whenever he treated her badly. After they divorced, she traded in the cars and bought herself a Hummer — with a license plate chosen in Kenny's honor. It reads: "HIS CASH."

"It's just a tribute to Kenny, because it was his cash," Anderson says. "And I thank you very much. I'm riding in style. Thank you."