Growing up playing basketball in a run-down park in Kathmandu, Nepal, I would hear my brother whisper “Kobe” every time he shot the ball to the hoop. Bryant was a player whose legacy was larger than his own life and had influenced a whole generation that grew up watching him dance elegantly across the court – even the ones in a small, far-flung South East Asian country.
Subsequently, when his death came, especially in the sudden manner that it did, emotional outburst came pouring in across the globe. Kobe Bryant’s journey in life had been shared by millions of people who had watched him play; his death brought the same millions of eyes to tears as they mourned an untimely death.
In an age where social media warrants narratives to be binary of either good or bad, saint or sinner, black or white, it is difficult to digest his life as the gray zone that it was. Our society’s tendency to patronize successful individuals as infallible, glosses over their vices. We push our heroes to be perfect and recount their lives with narratives of valor.
But what if we remembered these individuals as who they were – humans. What if we remembered Kobe as the guy who entranced millions with his game, and also, Kobe as the guy who allegedly sexually assaulted a woman and possibly got away from the repercussions because of his money and fame.
Kobe Bryant was 33,643 points-scoring 18-time All-Star, with five championships and two finals Most Valuable Player. However, Kobe Bryant was also a rape suspect with a civil lawsuit that charged him of sexually assaulting a 19-year old female in 2003. The case that started as a criminal lawsuit saw the victim badly intimidated by Bryant’s defense team, as well as the media and general public, resulting in it being reduced to a privately settled civil suit. However, later Bryant himself admitted that he had not explicitly asked for consent and evidence of physical aggression. The case was never brought up by mainstream media thereafter, and as a society, we never found the need to discuss it; Kobe Bryant was a hero – and our heroes are impeccable.
As a hero heralded by a generation, his deplorable shortcomings were also a part of his identity. The value that Bryant added to the society as a basketball player can never negate the horrendous suffering he inflicted upon his alleged victim. Then again, Bryant was the star who used his celebrity prowess to champion the WNBA and supported women in sports in general. A father of four daughters, two of whom were promising athletes, Bryant made regular appearances on the sidelines of women college basketball, WNBA, women’s soccer and Olympic events. He was famously quoted saying, “For the women’s game in general, it’s important to raise awareness about it, to have more women out there playing the game. And it’s the future.” Bryant not only cheered on the WNBA players during their games but also openly contended that there were players in the WNBA league that were capable of competing with the NBA males.
So, where does Bryant stand? What then should be the narrative of his legacy? Maybe the answer is in taking a step back from the hero narrative and remembering him as a human – a human who made a generation fall in love with basketball, a human who blinded by his fame inflicted suffering on somebody else, and also a human who tried making reparations by committing to women empowerment from the position of great influence.
Therefore, in retelling his lore as a basketball legend to young boys and girls, it is only fair that we tell of his flawed character and misgivings so it serves as a reminder that history will recount you for both your valor and your vice. Where Bryant’s success in life touted him to heroism, his death should be an opportunity to revisit that identity and start honest conversations.