Few experts believed the civil lawsuit would ever be heard by a jury, saying it was unlikely that Bryant and the 20-year-old woman who accused him of raping her relished the prospect of having to divulge potentially embarrassing, intimate details in a courtroom.
"This is the least surprising legal development of the year. This civil case was bound to settle from the day last September when the criminal case ended and Bryant apologized to his accuser," said CBS News Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen. "Both sides had major incentives to make a deal before even more embarrassing information came out about their private lives."
Avoiding those questions, Cohen said, probably was worth a lot both to Bryant and his alleged victim.
The case tarnished both Bryant, 27, arguably the NBA's best player, and the woman, a former high school cheerleader who once tried out for "American Idol" and found herself the subject of Internet speculation.
Terms of the settlement were not released. Law experts said the agreement probably spelled out financial penalties for revealing any details.
A two-sentence statement faxed to The Associated Press by Bryant's attorneys said only that the matter had been resolved "to the satisfaction of both parties."
"The parties and their attorneys have agreed that no further comments about the matter can or will be made," the statement said. A one-sentence motion for dismissal stipulating that the case can never be refiled was filed simultaneously in Denver federal court.
After a few more days of intense speculation about Wednesday's settlement — how much money, whether any details can ever be released — the case will quickly fade from view, said Denver attorney Scott Robinson.
"Ultimately a new scandal, a new public shame will come along and both the plaintiff and the defendant can pretty much go about their lives," he said.
A Los Angeles Lakers spokesman said Bryant had declined comment on the settlement. Bryant scored 26 points Wednesday night in Boston, but the Celtics still beat the Lakers 104-101.
"It's in both parties' interests to have this remain confidential," said Los Angeles attorney Steve Cron, who is familiar with celebrity cases. "That's one of the incentives for them to settle: He didn't have to do a deposition, the lurid details wouldn't be posted on some Web site, she didn't have to face the rigors of having a deposition by his lawyers and she'll gain some privacy as well."
The lawsuit, filed three weeks before the criminal case against Bryant collapsed last summer, sought unspecified damages for mental injuries, public scorn and humiliation the woman said she has suffered since their June 2003 encounter at the Vail-area hotel where she worked. The woman hasn't commented publicly on the case.
Bryant, a married father of one, apologized for his "behavior that night and for the consequences she has suffered," but insisted the sex was consensual.
Shortly after jury selection began in the criminal case, prosecutors in Eagle County dropped the single felony sexual assault count after the woman told them she couldn't take part in a trial.
Like the criminal case, the civil case ultimately would have rested on the testimony of a woman Bryant's attorneys accused of being a promiscuous, attention-seeking liar. Among other things, the defense suggested she had sex with someone after leaving Bryant and before she contacted authorities — a claim her attorneys hotly contested.
Speculation that a settlement was close increased Monday after L. Lin Wood, one of the woman's attorneys, said Bryant's long-awaited deposition three days earlier had been called off.
Colorado law makes it difficult for plaintiffs in civil cases to win more than about $733,000. Wood has said that amount was too low to fairly compensate the woman for the harm she claimed to have suffered
Sports marketers have estimated Bryant lost $4 million to $6 million in endorsement contracts after his arrest. He has not appeared in Nike commercials since the allegations surfaced, and McDonald's and Nutella did not renew their deals with him after his arrest.
Cynthia Stone, spokeswoman for the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said she hopes the settlement brings some sense of justice and closure for the accuser, who moved from state to state to avoid media scrutiny last year.
"The defense team in the criminal case managed to get reams of paper filled with rumor and innuendo about this young woman's prior sexual history out into the public," Stone said.
As a result, victims' advocates are lobbying for a bill intended to tighten Colorado's "rape shield" law. The bill, which has passed the state Senate, would prohibit discussion of an alleged victim's sexual history during a preliminary hearing unless a judge rules otherwise.
In Eagle, the woman's hometown, former Mayor Roxie Deane was cheered by news of the settlement. She said the case put the town on the map, which wasn't necessarily positive. "Eagle is a great place. It needs to be known for other things," she said.