A few days after I watched Kobe Bryant score 60 points on 50 shots in his last NBA game, I was moved to write something about his wonderful career.
But something stopped me. There was the obvious overexposure of everyone covering Kobe’s retirement and how my little piece would be lost at sea. But I couldn’t just look at Kobe’s career and applaud him into the night. Sure, I was able to do it on Twitter and if you ask, I’ll certainly say Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players I’ve ever witnessed play basketball.
The thing is… Kobe Bryant sexually assaulted a woman 14 years ago. The case was dismissed before it went to trial but there was a settlement in the following civil case. Kobe was never found guilty of the assault. It has a lot to do with the fact that I’m a father now but the idea of Kobe being a celebrated hero bugs me severely on this front.
Before I go any further, Kobe isn’t the first and certainly won’t be the last athlete accused of assault. Hell, the NFL is built on players who catch assault cases like colds in the offseason. And even more frightening is the idea of how many athletes before and after Kobe have gotten away with sexual assault? How many men in general never get apprehended every single day?
It goes beyond athletes as well. In the past week, R. Kelly (surprise), Usher, and Kevin Hart have all been in the news for different salacious acts against women. While support for Kelly has wavered since his sexual assault and child pornography charges of the early 2000s, his music career has been largely unaffected. Usher and Hart have never had any serious charges like Kelly and although opinions of them may change, I don’t see either one taking a hit in popularity. I could list several other cases here but it’s pretty clear that some men get away with almost murder and they’re always forgiven (CHRIS BROWN).
This brings me back to Kobe Bryant and how he’s remembered as the NBA gears up for its second full season without him in a Lakers uniform. I always hated on Kobe as he ascended to stardom, mostly because any immediate threat to Michael Jordan’s GOAT status has to be dismissed appropriately (see: my disdain for LeBron James from 2005-ish until 2012). The more Kobe & Shaq kept winning, the more I disliked the guy. I didn’t follow Kobe’s sexual assault case closely as it progressed; I just remember all the coverage SportsCenter would have of Kobe arriving in Eagle, CO for preliminary hearings. When the case was dismissed, I forgot all about it and continued to hate on Kobe as normal.
Kobe finally broke me by the time he won his 4th NBA Title in 2009 as I began to appreciate his talents despite the Lakers’ continued success. By the time the MVPuppets commercials began, I was a full-on Kobe fanboy, now cheering him in hopes that he would defeat LeBron. While a NBA Finals matchup between the 2 never happened, Kobe did manage to change how he was perceived publicly. He had come a ways from the spoiled, selfish player who didn’t want to play with Shaq in 2004 to the 5-time NBA Champion who was celebrating on the scorer’s table in 2010. The same attitude that he was vilified for early in his career was now depicted as an intense desire to win. I liken it to how a young puppy is scolded for making messes when it’s learning to not go in the house but once the dog hits a certain age, accidents are shrugged off because the dog is too old to contain themselves anymore. Kobe being Kobe, if you will.
Kobe aged in dog years from the time he tore his Achilles in 2013 until he scored that 60th point on April 13th, 2016. The Lakers fell out of contention and Kobe Bryant, forever a league villain, was enjoying retirement ceremonies in almost every city he visited. He and wife Vanessa were expecting a third child. Kobe got to go out on his own terms in 2015-16, despite the Lakers’ horrid record. He even managed to overshadow the Golden State Warriors winning their league record 73rd game of the season with his 60 points.
But when I look at Kobe Bryant or I watch Kobe Bryant’s countless hours of time spent on the professional hardwood, I just feel… wrong. I still love what Kobe Bryant has evolved into at the age of 38 (39 in August). One of my favorite Kobe pieces in recent years was about his rap career that never was over at Grantland. But it’s just like how “I Believe I Can Fly” isn’t quite the same. Or how I can’t honestly ever enjoy anything Chris Brown does because I see Rihanna’s face from the police photos.
Hell, Mike Tyson went to jail for rape and I feel like society (myself included) gives him a pass because “Mike’s a little crazy” and he’s changed his narrative in recent years with his comedy work. Tupac, often hailed as one of the brightest minds of my lifetime that was taken too soon, gets no blowback from the fact that he was in prison for sexual assault. There’s a statue of him in Germany. I just ran across a recent article on the All Eyez On Me biopic where the writer seems to be upset that the movie chose to include the assault in the film instead of briefly mentioning it and moving on. Straight Outta Compton and Dr. Dre were taken to task because his 1991 attack of Dee Barnes was missing. Director F. Gary Gray claimed it was omitted so more of the focus would be on NWA. Those who were introduced to NWA and its members through the film have no idea who Dee Barnes is but they have a pair of Beats By Dre headphones.
Dr. Dre and Tupac have been tremendous influences on me through what they accomplished in music. Mike Tyson is still one of the best boxers I’ve ever seen. And Kobe Bryant is the best basketball player I’ve witnessed that’s not named LeBron James since 1999. But every time we laugh at him doing those Mamba like things he gets so much credit for in recent years, I just feel guilty. Somewhere, his victim, just like many victims across this planet, tries to live a normal life, a life that is as close to what life was before the assault. Every time I see Kobe and his kids, or film of Kobe and Phil Jackson hugging after a championship, or just Kobe Bryant enjoying his life, I just hope his victim, or any victim, has found the type of peace he must have found.
It’s a lot to think about. Maybe too much for some who have read this far. You may think I’m too hard on Kobe or anyone else I’ve mentioned in this piece. The assault happened in 2003 you might say. People change. People are forgiven. Maybe Kobe lies awake at night over it often. Maybe he sleeps like a baby and has moved on.
But I’m just a father with a daughter, what do I know?