The following story has been altered to reflect my current beliefs about Kobe Bryant. Jan. 26, when I was writing this column, I was still processing everything that’s happened, from the good to the bad. That’s what was reflected in the initial version of this article. It’s one thing to include an accusation of rape and have that as a sole impact affecting legacy. But it’s another thing to not include the laundry list of community-oriented actions he’s done in his post-NBA career. Yesterday, I’ve made that mistake. Below is a revised version of my column.
If I were to tell you I wasn’t a Kobe Bryant fan, I’d be lying. Ever since I was a kid, I remember watching my late grandma hobble to her Saint John Paul shrine and pray to God for the Lakers to win. Witnessing her low hums of prayer was like my baptism as a second-generation Laker fan.
I watched Kobe and Shaq send off the Portland Trail Blazers in 2000 with an alley-oop that reverberated the annals of NBA history. In 2006, I watched Kobe sizzle the Toronto Raptors in an 81-point feat, proud that he scored so much in the one and only game my parents would ever attend. That same year, I was startled to hear sports commentator Mike Breen yell “Bang!” underneath the oohs and ahs of a Kobe game winner against Phoenix Suns defender Boris Diaw.
Kobe’s gonna do what Kobe’s gonna do.
On a random Tuesday in 2016, I sat in a college classroom febrile with caffeinated energy and nothing to quell it. Back then I used to scroll through endless listings on eBay looking to find one more Champion jersey to add to my collection. No boxy V-necks, just old ‘90s round necks.
I remember bidding on a “Kobe Bryant Lakers yellow jersey size small,” and winning it with a generous offer of $25.50.
I was pumped. I spent the rest of the two hours of class watching Kobe game winners and highlights.
Just a few months prior to my transaction, Kobe gifted Lakers fans with a 60-point win against the not-so-competitive Utah Jazz (the opposing team had just found out they would not reach the playoffs mid-game). But then too, I was pumped.
I received my jersey days after I ordering. It was a gold classic jersey emblazoned with a ripe purple “8” swelled across the chest. The screen print glistened. No cracks. But its white collar stained with an orange blemish.
Today, I opened my Twitter feed and joined the universal shock of millions. Some tweeted prayers hoping that the headlines were fake. Others posted pictures of his legendary feats frozen in time, captioned with the endearing “G.O.A.T.” title.
Among the headlines of his greatness – a laundry list of achievements including his five championship rings and his 18 All Star appearances – comes the resurfacing of his not-so-perfect moments.
Seventeen years ago, rape allegations against Kobe permeated headlines, where at the time my family and I shared cognitive dissonance to the situation. We dismissed the situation because everything eventually blew over; we ignored the reports of potential non-consent, ignored the reports claiming he asked the police if he can pay up to quell the situation.
But these stories continued to creep up. Articles of concern and boycotts were met with the basketball star’s Oscar nomination for animated short “Dear Basketball.”
That pedestal that I put Kobe on leveled with the ground. But just as social media can cancel, it can heal.
The last meme of a very much alive Kobe was him talking strategy courtside with his daughter Gianna Bryant, who also died in the helicopter crash. I watched the resurfaced videos of him directing traffic in Newport Beach last year after a car crash. He was donned in a pink sweatsuit, not in white robes and a white beard.
When Kobe retired, people don’t remember him fashioning a lifestyle of glitz and gold. He ducked down, embracing his community and using his status and skill to elevate the next generation of women’s basketball, even opening up Mamba Sports Academy for both adults and youth to cultivate their sports abilities.
Kobe Bryant isn’t perfect. It’s faulty to think that he is, to ignore past grave faults simply because some believe his legacy outweighs negative incidents. If there’s one thing that’s certain: He’s a man with great basketball prowess, exceeding most of the best players in NBA history. But his past personal decisions and decree to improve himself and his community are all too human.
Today, I look at my old yellow jersey fondly, remembering the greatness he brought to the court. I examine the stain on its white collar, staring at it longingly wishing it were never there.
I will never forget Kobe Bryant, whose legacy of late game heroics cultivated my childhood. But I will remember him as a man who fell to earth and became one of us.
Due to community concerns, this article was edited for clarity and sensitivity on Jan. 27 at 2:52 p.m.
This article was updated and added to on Jan. 27 at 11:22 p.m.