05/07/2001 at 01:00 AM EDT
For a guy who may be the flashiest player in the NBA, Kobe Bryant was once woefully lacking in fashion flair off the court. "I was the type to wear sweatpants, not have my shirt tucked in, have my boots unlaced," says Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers' 6'7" star guard. "Vanessa got me into lacing them up and looking neat and stuff."
Sure enough, Bryant, 22, looked neat and stuff when he walked down the aisle with Vanessa Laine, 18, at their surprise wedding April 18—right before the defending-champion Lakers began the playoffs. Bryant, in a black suit, and his bride, in a full-length Vera Wang and $500,000 worth of baubles, whisked only a dozen guests to secluded St. Edward Catholic Church in Dana Point, 90 minutes south of L.A. There the two strolled under a heart-shaped arch and over rose petals on the way to swapping platinum and diamond wedding bands. "They are sweet together and very much in love," says Ann Whatu, co-owner of Santa Monica jeweler Rafinity, which made the rings. (Laine's totaled 5 carats, Bryant's 15.) "Vanessa helped design Kobe's wedding band. He just loves that she did that for him."
Bryant gave Laine a 7½-carat engagement ring in May 2000, when she was still in high school. Fond of daredevil stunts like bungee jumping and parasailing, the couple picked a rare off day for Bryant to squeeze in their secret nuptials. (He told team-mates at practice the next day.) In lieu of a honeymoon, Laine watched her new hubby score 28 points in a playoff win four days later. "There wasn't really a perfect time to do it," says Whatu. "But they wanted to have a private, intimate moment together, and they succeeded." Plus, Bryant's size 14 shoes stayed laced.