I cried more tears over the loss of Kobe Bryant than I would have ever imagined, if I could have imagined it. I struggled for words that will be able to express something close to what I’ve been feeling — as you can imagine writing about it has been, particularly challenging.
I feel nostalgic for my childhood and innocent idolization. I feel cold, indifference from life and its regard to the living. I feel shame, for the afterthought of the “7 other passengers.” I feel pain for the sexual abuse victims, watching him be glorified. I feel incapable of imagining how it would feel to lose your child and partner. I feel a pit of deep and pure sadness inside me. I feel like I lost something because I feel like I knew Kobe Bryant… and I was just getting to know Gianna.
My Kobe Story
I hated Kobe Bryant. As a Warrior fan, Kobe was my nemesis. He embodied the evil organization known as the Los Angeles Lakers; glamorous, arrogant and great. He was the anti-hero that I watched with disdain, but watched, nonetheless. He was like Walter White, a character that repeatedly did things that you hate but did them in such a great way that you find yourself cheering in the end.
“I hate Kobe,” was a thinly veiled term of endearment in the basketball world.
And honestly, I loved my nemesis, in the way that the Joker loves and needs Batman.
The death of Kobe to me was the death of a dream, a fantasy, a folktale. His life suggested that life is able to be conquered, you can corrall the world, if you work hard enough and focus. He took playing a game to epic proportions, to a point where it could honestly be described as, “heroic.” When Kobe put on his uniform, it was like it was his cape. We saw a different identity. Kobe’s career as a basketball player wasn’t simply one of romantic sports idolization, it was seen as an existential exhibition of the full scope of human potential, that inspired others to rise to the challenge.
It was triumphant and glorious enough to make us forget – or want to forget – the Kobe Bryant off the court. His death was a sobering reality check and end of the Kobe illusion, as his death forced us to remember his life as a whole.
Now, I’m left with the grief of the 9 innocent people and children killed tragically and the guilt of grieving over one the most, the one who was a perpetrator of sexual abuse.
A cruel irony is I was just exploring this concept in my article about Cancel Culture. Kobe presents me with another dilemma, in determining how he should be remembered. Is he an inspiration? Is he a symbol of violence? Is he a hero? Is he a villain?
Kobe Bryant was none of those things solely because he was a culmination of all those things, above all he was human.
But I and many others elevated him to Godliness, we naively built him up as the hero we wanted to see. Which makes it so difficult to criticize our heroes, to disillusion ourselves to see who they really are.
Though, I feel that it’s too late now for half-hearted activism, shouting “Rapist!” on our soapboxes. That outrage is valid but it needs to be redirected. We failed to hold Kobe accountable while he was alive, it doesn’t help to posthumously take vengeance on those who mourn for him now.
It’s vital to make clear statements that we won’t tolerate the perpetuation or neglect of rape. How can we further the conversation and understanding about sexual abuse toward a constructive way?
What could we have done better?
What would Kobe have said, if we asked about how having a daughter has changed his perspective on his actions in 2003?
What would he say, if we questioned how his identity qualifies him to be the ambassador for the WNBA that he desired to be?
It brings us nothing to ignore his positive contributions to the world, in order to further shame his negatives. It hurts us to absolve him of his crimes because of our desire to praise him for the personal joy we gain from him.
It’s our responsibility now, to evolve our perceptions. We have to comprehend the idea that this individual brought tremendous joy to the world, as well as tremendous pain. We have to cope with the reality that one person can inspire millions of children globally while simultaneously harming women and victims of abuse everywhere. Morally defining somebody’s life as a whole is a complex if not impossible thing to do.
We need to be cautious of idolizing ANYONE and glorifying people we don’t truly know. We HAVE to resist the urge to dismiss and reduce people to just one easily-understood, label.
We can ask ourselves if, or to what extent, we believe in change. It’s hard to deny that the Kobe we saw in 2020 was not the same as 2003 but where do we go from there? He was let off the hook then, what do we do now? Is it right, to let someone strive for redemption?
How much understanding are we lacking in dissecting the variety of factors that lead young-men to rape? How far do we still need to go in discussing the intersection of power, consent and sexuality? What are the messages that society sends to men and women, that we are complicit in perpetuating?
I think we’ve been forced to re-evaluate what our idea of a hero looks like, or whether or not our ideal of a hero really exists? Maybe in a melodramatic way, Kobe Bryant wasn’t the hero we wanted but he was the hero we deserved?
I’m unashamed to say that I loved Kobe Bryant. What he did to that woman is abhorrent, the way society responded to it and how he is ignorantly idolized I am disgusted but he managed to make me still love him and I am trying to comprehend that.
There’s something universal about Kobe on the court that clearly communicated, “This is what I’m about.” There’s something about when someone bares their soul in front of you that makes you feel like you know them and understand them, that makes you love them.
For whatever it’s worth, my heart goes out to the family and friends surviving the victims of the helicopter crash. I didn’t know the Altobelli’s, Mausers or Chesters but I feel for them. I feel like I knew the Bryants and my heart wrenches for them.
The only solace I find in the beautifully tragic reality of Kobe and Gianna dying together, is I couldn’t imagine either of them having to live life without the other.