Kobe Bryant meant a lot to me. There isn’t any other way to put it. I grew up with the Lakers and they were an integral part of my upbringing. I wanted to work in basketball. I’m in my current profession because it stemmed from the possibility of working in the NBA. I’ve met a lot of my closest friends because of basketball. It’d be a flat out lie to say Kobe Bryant did not play a part in me enjoying the sight of an orange sphere made of leather pass through a red hoop. The image of him with his hand up running up the court after beating Boston in 2010 is one of my favorite sports images. They were down 13 to start the fourth and were able to overcome that and get revenge for 2008. What a moment.
I feel blessed to be a Lakers fan. Watching that level of dominance throughout my adolescence was a big part of my development. Even when they weren’t “contending,” Kobe was the reason to tune in. He deserved the MVP in 2006. His scoring input in January was insane. Fans can argue the merit of 81 points against a sub-par Raptors team but it was eighty-one freaking points.
I remember sitting in an empty office with a TV on a rolling console while I waited for my dad to get off work. The Lakers were playing the Knicks that night in 2009. We ended up staying later after his shift ended so we could watch Kobe drop 61 points.
He might not have been my favorite Laker (that was Shaq) but he was the one I followed the longest. The Lakers were a form of solace for me. Things could be terrible but I knew most nights I’d have KCAL 9 on to see the team play. Living in Southern California, Kobe was a way to bond with someone. He changed my life.
But at the same time, his legacy can be difficult to talk about.
Following his death, I kept seeing the phrase “complicated” when it comes to discussing Kobe Bryant. What this was is usually an allusion to was the sexual assault accusations levied against him in 2003. They’re something many fans argued against the discussion of and many media members were hesitant to bring up. Up until a few years ago, I didn’t realize he actually apologized and admitted that he understood the woman who accused him did not see their sex as consensual
First, I want to apologize directly to the young woman involved in this incident. I want to apologize to her for my behavior that night and for the consequences she has suffered in the past year[…] Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.
This really left me feeling uncomfortable with celebrating him the way I did. Unquestionably supporting him through the years after this was initially said. Rape is an issue that women face daily. It’s a big issue when women are taken advantage of by men of higher societal stature. No one forgot and no one will ever forget.
I harbored a sort of resentment towards him during the waning moments of his career. Like there was some sort of asterisk whenever I saw his name. I still celebrated watching his last game but it wasn’t without being pensive.
This was a terrible thing that happened. But, Kobe did take accountability for it, granting the request of the accuser: admitting fault, stating she didn’t lie, nor did it for money.
Kobe has to be seen in his entirety as both a player and as a person. He made the conscious decision to partake in a heinous act. I’m not going to put on a guise of moral superiority and tell you how to feel about the man. Because that’s what it is: a feeling. It is a fact that Kobe did something wrong, and it’s dismissive to glance over it. Kobe leaving the world a better place is just as much a fact. Both of these things are true.
I was so fixated on that incident. But in reality, Kobe had such an immense impact on the world. I’m not just talking about basketball.
The Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation did so much locally, statewide, and globally. Kobe was a supporter of organizations that provided after school opportunities to children of lower-income households. He famously propped up women’s sports, showing support for the USWNT during their 2015 and 2019 World Cup campaigns. Kobe supported the WNBA; he mentored younger female athletes.
Most importantly we saw more and more of what Kobe was as a father. The unquestionable love he had for his family was visible. Fans were able to see the sort of father-daughter bond that he had with each of his girls.
Zito Madu of SBNation put it best in this thread regarding Kobe Bryant:
If he's never forgiven for that, then that's just it. That's the problem with hurting someone, you can't go and erase it and the power to fix it is not in your hands. But being mad at him not being forgiven for it, is being mad that the victim won't let you be comfortable.
— Zito (@_Zeets) January 27, 2020
His followers cannot be the ones that absolve him of what he did. You can’t dismiss what he did. You’re not in the wrong if you remember what Kobe did in ’03 and that’s your lasting impression of him.
Even so, people who have done terrible things can still be wept for by those they impacted in a positive manner.
I found myself in tears finding out Kobe and Gianna Bryant had passed away. I continue to mourn their losses as well as those who perished with them. It’s surreal to think that a staple of my childhood is gone when we were just able to catch glimpses of the sort of man and father he would’ve been. Kobe’s death was sudden and devastating. It took something this tragic to realize you can’t have your focus set on the awful thing that occurred. It’s a shame that his death made me stop and really reflect on him as a player and as a person.
Kobe left a legacy that was more positive than not. I didn’t see that until now. I let these last few years that I could have appreciated him go towards contempt. Looking back, he may have been one of the few consistent things I had in my life growing up.
I never had the chance to thank you for what you did on the court, but also the great things you did for the world. So I’ll do that here.
Rest in Peace Kobe Bryant.