About Kobe Bryant

When a celebrity dies, there’s typically two narratives that develop. The first is the outpouring of sorrow; the thoughts and prayers, the rose-colored memories. The explanations of the lives they touched, the endless tributes and positive words and energy being directed at their family and friends. And then there’s the flip side, with the people divorced from the emotional connection, who can only look at the bad deed’s that the person has done, and can not bring themselves to see anything but the bad deed.

The truth of who a person was in life, as it does with so many things, often exists somewhere in the middle of those narratives. That gray area is where Kobe Bryant lives; a revered, Hall of Fame basketball player who’s incredible talents inspired millions, a loving father, and (re)devoted husband, an Oscar winner, even a rapper…and a man who stood credibly accused of rape, only to walk free without facing any repercussions, who had devoted much of his time to erasing the accusation from his personal history.

My mom use to tell me, if you don’t have something nice to say about someone, then don’t say it at all. That held especially true when someone died. I can’t say for certain that I think this thought pervades a lot of African-American communities moreso than others, but it at least feels that way; the world beats us down enough in life. Even the worst amongst us deserve some dignity in death, because the system of white supremacy affords us so little of it in life. I think that’s how the story goes.

But I find it impossible to divorce Kobe Bryant the baseketball player from the man who stood accused of sexually assaulting a human being in Colorado. I find it hard because I’ve never been able to see Bryant just as a basketball player. And to ignore the things that trouble me about who he was, even if he became a better person, would make me too cold and callous and interested in SPORTS AS AN AMERICAN TRADITION THAT CAN’T BE SULLIED BY PERSONAL TRADGEDIES.

I think of Bryant’s alleged victim, and how she did everything that people say she was supposed to in the wake of being raped. She made sure she told someone. She went to the hospital. She got an examination done, evidence was documented. She followed the letter of the rules; there was a host of evidence against Bryant. The man choked her. There was internal and external genital bruising. They found blood in her underwear, and blood on Bryant’s clothes.

And Bryant’s legal team destroyed her. They made her out to be “just another gold digger.” They leaked her name to the press. They shamed her and embarrassed her and left her scared and bullied into not testifying. Then he settled the civil case and won a championship.

When Chris Benoit died, for a long time I stood in denial, thinking I could separate Chris Benoit the wrestler whom I loved, legitimately, with the man who murdered his wife and his son. I told myself that those people existed almost separately from each other. It took years to reconcile that Chris Benoit, the wrestler, and Chris Benoit, the murderer, are the same person. They are one man. In fact, Benoit’s wrestling career contributed rather directly to the mental state he was in when he killed Nancy Benoit and his son Daniel.

In the same way, Kobe Bryant was (allegedly) able to get away with a crime because of who he was, and what he represented. He had enough money to hire enough lawyers. He had a team to rehabilitate his image. He had a loving wife who stuck by him when she had every fucking reason not to. Bryant could not have been Bryant the alleged rapist if he was not Bryant the basketball player. They are — or rather were — the same person.

Bryant eventually apologized, in the way most men in positions of power do; by deflecting and refusing to actually take any blame. “I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.” Bryant said in a statement after the criminal case ended. It still pins the blame back on the victim. “I understand how she feels she did not consent.”

She feels she did not consent. I totally thought she was consenting, lots of people are saying she consented, but she felt differently, and for the way she feels about not being sure she was consenting, I apologize.

Bryant’s death is a tragedy. The death of his daughter Gianna is horrific. This is not a condemnation of those mourning Bryant’s death; only that we remember him more for who he was as a whole-assed adult human being. One of the worst things we do is casting the stuff we don’t like about the dead into the shadows, so we can view a person not as what he is, but as a weird, Coachella-holograph version of the person we want them to be.

Reality is hardly ever as good as we want to be. Even Bryant’s death proves that. People are shook for good reason. Bryant’s death is abnormal.

But his life was abnormal. So in mourning him, let’s not gloss over that which made Kobe Bryant who he was. Not just a basketball player. Not just an accused criminal. But, like, as a human, who can do fucked up things and maybe come out the other side a better person.

There’s more lessons in that than in ignoring and embracing the stuff you don’t want to remember about someone.

About KC Complains A Lot 135 Articles
KC Complains A Lot is another refugee from Deadspin. He enjoys writing and not caving to pressure from herbs.


    • Your assessment was pretty fair and I appreciated that. I knew of his good and bad things he had done in his life and it makes me wonder what will be said about me when I meet my demise.

  1. I really had no feelings after hearing the news. I might rank him the 4th or 5th best player on my historical list but that might be another thread…

    I was at the gym on the eliptical when I heard the news and didn’t have the volume very loud and the 1st thing that popped into my head was Ceetolini had died. When I heard it was Kobe the next thing I though was that he was the pilot at the controls and another in the many entertainers that died flying their own craft.

    His “apology” carried no weight for me unless there was acceptance from the victim and I don’t know if there was. He will be someone that never paid for his crime and then fell back on his privilege and falsely equated Shaq’s extramarital affairs to his rape.

    I have no idea what kind of person he became but hope that he experienced the growth that people tend to in their 30s and 40s.

  2. This is the important lesson to take regarding people like Kobe Bryant: that his position of power and the vast wealth he had at his disposal allowed him to rape a powerless (in more ways than one) woman and get away with it–and even be considered a good guy after all the PR did its work.

    I have no feelings about Kobe Bryant’s death. I was never a fan and I became less of a fan of his existence after his rape of that poor housekeeper. I am, however, very sad that his 13-year old daughter died. She deserved a better father and a longer life.

    One other thing: I also think it is a true tragedy that the family has to face not only a life without their father/sister/husband/daughter, but that they have to do this in the glare of a huge spotlight. Nobody should have to mourn in public.

  3. “He had a loving wife who stuck by him when she had every fucking reason not to.”

    Something which is often forgotten in the “Kobe bought Vanessa a huge diamond ring(s), and she took him back” narrative, is the fact that Kobe was/is/had been/however you want to put it her *ONLY* adult relationship.

    They met when she was 16/17 (some sources say 18, but they were engaged & married when she was 18, if I understand correctly). Kobe was already
    20/22 years old (depending on which story you read) and a basketball superstar headed to multi-millionaire status, AND the child of wealthy–if not rich-rich–parents himself (don’t forget Jellybean was a pro player, and Kobe’s mom *also* came from a pro-hoops family, and Kobe & his sisters grew up in Italy, becausethat was where Jellybean was playing).

    So, imo, Vanessa didn’t even really stand a chance–in some ways, it kinda seems to me like it parallels Domestic Violence situations–where one person holds all the power, and the other’s whole life becomes subsumed by the dominating partner.

    Vanessa never had money outside of Kobe’s. She ended up quitting High School & being tutored by folks paid by Kobe. He proposed with a giant diamond, and married her with none of their family & friends around (for multiple reasons).

    She literally grew up as his wife, and has spent her ENTIRE adulthood as a “basketball wifey.”

    And it *wasn’t* a situation like Steph & Ayesha Curry’s “high school sweethearts” thing–with an even meeting of high-schoolers.

    Kobe was *already* rich, famous, powerful, and a multi-year league veteran when he met Vanessa…

    Kobe then proceeded to cheat on her with multiple women over the years–supposedly *that* was why she filed for divorce in 2011, before their 2013 reconciliation.



    Her whole existence & adulthood has been as “Kobe’s Wife,” not as *fully her own person.* it’s NOT surprising that she reconciled with him time & time again, because, realistically–if you were in her position–would *you* be able to strike out on your own & make a go of the world, when being a mega star’s wife was literally ALL you’ve known? (I can’t honestly say *I* would be able to walk away from the only security I’d known, tbh!)

    This is going to be REALLY hard–not only did she lose her husband & child, she lost a central part of her reality & existence.

    That’s a huge shock to the system & massive change. I feel for her, and I really hope she’s got a few good people, who are honest & loyal, who she can trust & lean on.

    This article gets into the background between Kobe & Vanessa a good bit (TW’s, because it’s from 2003, and starts off talking about the then-current rape case):


    • I didn’t know any of that stuff about Kobe or his relationship with his wife. Mostly because–as mentioned before–I’m not a fan. But, also because I spent a lot of time around celebrities in a previous life and learned how to leave them alone and not dig into their privacy. Anyway, the dynamic makes perfect sense. No way would I have been able to walk away if I was in her shoes–and in some ways I was at one time in my life. She’s going to have a much rougher go of it than I thought because now she’s going to have to figure out who she is as an individual, and I’m guessing that she’ll have plenty of Kobe’s support team telling her what that is. The whole thing sucks, all the way around.

      • I mostly knew about it, because my job at the time was easier if I paid close attention to sportsball in all forms😉

        I worked for a company that made dance, skating, & cheerleading costumes, and we had half the NBA’s & NFL’s cheer squads at the time–so following all the main stories meant that I could also stay on top of the smaller stories that mattered vitally to our business–like when teams changed their secondary uniforms, or a secondary color in their color schemes (SUPER important to know, when we’d send out a free garment at tryout season/for their pro-bowl cheerleader if it was an NFL team.)
        Staying on top of the uni changes gave my company a leg up on our competition, because the cheer coaches knew we WERE watching their squads, and we earned a LOT more business because of it. And the Kobe/Vanessa stuff was ALLLLLLLL over the headlines in the early ’00’s.

  4. I’m watching a lot of people I know and respect employ the “he didn’t do it/we shouldn’t talk about it because I like him” defense. It is irritating to me. I am an assault survivor and for me, it’s as if those friends are doing it to me.

  5. We know what happened on the court, because we could see it.
    We weren’t in that hotel room in Colorado, or in the Bryant household.
    We can pass judgment on Kobe the ballplayer based on what we saw and what we know.
    We think we know celebrities as human beings, but we don’t. To draw conclusions about who he was as a person based on anything other than what you saw is unsupportable. Ask yourself whether you would want to be judged based on what people who don’t know you said, or worse, assumed about you.

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