By: Zachary Draves
This is the most heartfelt, most poignant, and without question, the most challenging piece I have ever conceived of and put into words since I have started writing for this website.
I am still trying to grapple with the pain
I am still comprehending the shock.
I am beside myself.
I am at a loss.
It is still raw and unreal, and am I still not emotionally secure enough to be as eloquent as I want to be.
But as the line from Public Enemy goes “I gotta do what I gotta do”.
After hearing of the death of Kobe Bryant this past Sunday, I had to give myself a period to reflect on his life, his career, his accomplishments, his troubling behavior, and his evolution.
So many thoughts were mixed with floods of tears.
I am coming at this from multiple perspectives
As a former basketball player, a writer, a historian, a social justice advocate, and as an advocate for survivors of sexual assault.
I had to start from the beginning.
I remember as a child hearing about this young brash, charismatic angelic-looking young man from Philly, who was the son of an NBA player Joe “Jellybean” Bryant and who knew from the time he could walk, he was destined for greatness in basketball.
He had lived overseas for a good portion of his youth, mainly in Italy where his father played in the Italian league after his NBA career was finished.
From there, Kobe was able to learn Italian and came to speak it fluently.
He was exposed at a young age about other worlds, other cultures, and other lifestyles, and he took it upon himself to see himself as a citizen of the world, not just the United States.
He also saw the power of basketball to bridge cultural divides and promote global solidarity, something he mastered more than anyone of his generation.
His life was a walking embodiment of multiculturalism.
He came of age during the period where the game was starting to explode into a worldwide phenomena
As for me, I was a child who was raised on Michael Jordan and the Bulls who relished every minute of every game and every championship was always a milestone moment in my life because I knew at that time that it was something special and something to savor.
So when this guy Kobe came about and made the transition from high school powerhouse at Lower Marion High School in Philadelphia to proclaiming that as he put it, “I, Kobe Bryant have decided to take my talents to um, (brief pause followed up giggles and rousing cheers, I have decided to skip college and take my talent to the NBA.”
That moment set it off for me. I was fascinated that a high school player was able to go into the NBA without any college experience.
But at the time, I wasn’t really into the idea of the “next Michael Jordan”.
For me, Michael Jordan was sacred, he was everything to me and to see a high school kid being mentioned in the same sentence as him, threw me off.
But as I have grown into adulthood and developed a conscious and an ongoing deeper understanding of the history of the black athlete in America, I can see that what Kobe was doing was taking on the tradition of an Oscar Robertson, Curt Flood, Spencer Haywood, and others in his own way.
By that I mean, he was a black athlete who took control over his destiny and defying White America’s respectability politics and the exploitative practices and hypocrisy of the NCAA.
He, Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady, and LeBron James followed that path. They are a model of black self-determination.
That should be talked about more in the context of Kobe’s legacy.
Once he landed in Tinsel town and put on the purple and gold, he was on his way.
His accomplishments on the court have already been said, and there is no need to go any further with that.
What became of Kobe was a man who defied stereotypes.
As an athlete, he was an intellectual who had a curiosity about the world, so much for the so-called “dumb jock.”
As a father, he was immensely involved in his children’s lives, a sound defeat to the respectability politics crowd, as well as societal images from popular culture that consistently portray black fathers as absent and irresponsible.
Don’t just take Kobe’s example, just look to the Center for Disease Control’s study that shows that black fathers are more involved in their children’s lives https://www.vox.com/2015/6/21/8820537/black-fathers-day
He also was going through evolution into an athlete who had an understanding of social justice issues and was willing to lend his support to the cause.
He supported Trayvon Martin’s family, the protesters in Ferguson, wore an I Can’t Breathe T-Shirt in honor of Eric Garner, and was a passionate defender of Colin Kaepernick.
With all that being said, we must not forget that night in that hotel room in Colorado in 2003.
Kobe was credibly charged with sexual assault at that time by a 19-year-old woman.
The case lasted for two years before the charges were dropped in 2005 after she didn’t want to testify during the trial.
From there, Kobe’s life moved on without any real consequence. Meanwhile, this young woman’s life was forever ruined and tarnished by Kobe’s defense attorneys and the media who tried to portray as someone who was “in it for the money,” “couldn’t be trusted,” or an “insane fan,” etc.
Her personal life was put on trial instead of Kobe, who was the one was charged the crime mind you.
It was utterly degrading to her and led to a change in rape shield laws in the state of Colorado.
As part of the settlement that made the charges go away, Kobe had to write an apology that was read in court that essentially confessed to a non-consensual act.
It is well documented and can be easily researched.
In the aftermath, the case became a footnote and was rarely discussed as the sports world became hypnotized by Kobe, the baller.
He himself failed to take any sort of accountability for his behavior.
What could have helped is if he had become actively involved in addressing rape culture in sports and beyond and could have reached out to men and boys and discussed how these cultural paradigms pigeonhole males into a very toxic definition of manhood that enables violence towards women and girls.
He didn’t do that and was able to walk away scott free.
Meanwhile, his accuser has been forced into silence and rendered invisible as is the case with many sexual assault survivors.
As we come to terms with his death, we cannot and must not forget how this is impacting survivors of sexual assault and how traumatizing it must be for them and his accuser when they see a perpetrator being lionized all over.
We must not also punish and shame those who have the courage to raise this issue even in the aftermath of this tragedy as journalists and survivors are being shunned on social media for speaking the truth.
This is where we get to the heart of all of it.
When it comes to public figures who have touched our lives, we must be honest and responsible when we define their legacies.
We can acknowledge the good, while also acknowledging the bad and the ugly.
We can like someone for their talent, but also recognize where they screwed up in their personal lives.
Kobe is no different.
Kobe was neither entirely a demon, nor entirely an angel.
We can no longer be blinded by our fandom and enthusiastically defend our favorite stars.
We, as humans, can hold multiple thoughts at the same time.
This is a great time to put that to work.
In the end, Kobe Bryant was one of the greatest basketball players of all time who transcended cultural boundaries and became a global icon and who also hurt and destroyed a young woman’s life.
The truth does hurt, but it must be spoken.
Our thoughts are with the Bryant family, the families of the other passengers, the NBA, Gigi’s teammates, and all sexual assault survivors.