How Do You Choose to Remember Kobe Bryant?
Op-Ed: The part of Kobe Bryant's history that the world conveniently forgot about while they mourned. Does it matter?
This week, the Lakers collected the trinkets and tributes left at the makeshift memorial for a fallen ‘hero’. The still world mourns Kobe Bryant- the world mourns the loss of him, his daughter, and the seven others who perished Jan. 26 in the Calabasas helicopter crash. Abruptly losing the basketball legend’s superhuman abilities on the court, and his humblingly human gestures off the court devastated the American public.
Twitter and Instagram were- and still are- inundated with celebrities’ 280-character expressions of sorrow. The world sent thoughts and prayers, posted photos of the legend, and collectively remembered Bryant’s profound career. The Grammy Awards, later the night of the 26, at the Lakers’ Staples Center, opened with an impromptu celebration of Bryant.
“We are literally standing here, heartbroken, in the house that Kobe Bryant built,” Alicia Keys, the host of the 62nd Grammys said before the tribute performance. Celebrities and audiences alike tweeted their sorrow using the hashtag #KobeBryant.
Just two years prior, the same award show fiercely advocated for victims of sexual assault using the #MeToo.
Most of the initial reports and eulogies within 24 hours of the crash detailed every known aspect of the tragedy, the victims’ lives, and Bryant’s 20-year career and family. Most completely failed to acknowledge the basketball legend’s felony sexual assault charge.
In July 2003, a 19 year-old Colorado woman reported to the police that Kobe Bryant raped her. In the 14 months leading up to the end of the criminal trial, this young woman faced death threats. She moved multiple times, between five different states. Her privacy and life were disrupted, all because she had the courage to speak out.
Bryant continued to play basketball.
This victim went up against one of the biggest basketball players in the world. So big, that in 2003 he signed a $40 million, four-year endorsement with Nike. Not only that, but Bryant’s salary from 2003-04 was $13.5 million. The Eagle County’s Judicial District, where his victim’s case was tried, had a budget of $2 million that same year.
She also went up against his team, who made it to their Western Conference semifinals that year. She faced his fans, and the death threats and comments they berated her with.
Intimidated by the celebrity of Bryant and his resources, and after losing faith in prosecutors when court transcripts leaked from her hearing, the woman decided to withdraw her testimony and criminal charges against Bryant were dropped. A civil case still continued after.
So we end with the question of how to define a man. Do you define Bryant by his illustrious career on and off the court?
Do you give Bryant the power of becoming an idol; immortalizing him in his athleticism and charisma?
Or does his destruction of a young woman’s life condemn him forever in your mind?
Bryant’s death reminds us that he is human. It is unacceptable to lionize him to the point that he becomes an infallible god.
Revere his domination of the NBA. Respect his dedication to his daughters. But with that needs to come the nuanced realization that Bryant hurt someone.
Even though he was never convicted, this young woman had to survive a tumultuous trial and ruthless backlash. Now, everywhere she turns she sees the world praising Bryant.
Regardless of what you believe, you cannot forget that 2003 happened. To do so would be ignorant. You cannot forget that one person in that courtroom was incessantly abused by the public. You cannot forget that the other returned to Los Angeles and to his successful career, to his $13.5 million, and to his Nike deal.
“The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones,” Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caesar. The opposite seems to be true. Both need to be recognized.
This story was originally published on The Rock Newspaper on February 5, 2020.