I grew up on Kobe. Most of what I know about life, I learned from playing basketball. And everything I learned about playing basketball, I learned from Kobe Bean. When I didn’t know what to do, I asked myself what Kobe Bean Bryant would do.
Kobe taught me how to push my body and brain to the limits, then push again. Kobe taught me how to give 100% of myself to the thing I loved. He taught me how to obsess over something in a way that some might see as psychotic, but others see as dedicated beyond belief. Over time, the thing that I'm focusing on has changed, but my approach to it hasn't, thanks to Kobe.
The Mamba Mentality is more than a funny catch phrase to me. It, and Kobe, taught me to be the first one in and the last one out of the gym, always. To always be thinking about the next game, the next practice, in the back of my head. He taught me to work from the ground up, and to stay loyal to what matters to me.
Kobe could have left the city I called home at any time in his career. He could’ve become a champion sooner or pursued more rings elsewhere. But he loved Los Angeles, and the Lakers were his dream. So, he stayed, and he worked. Growing up near Los Angeles, watching Kobe dominate every single time he touched a ball, inspired me. Kobe made me a better basketball player, sure, but he made me a better person. A person who works for what I want, who doesn’t stop until I get there, who refuses to see failure as an option.
I cried in 2010 when the Lakers team I grew up idolizing won their championship. I was so proud to share a city with them, so proud to own a purple and gold jersey. I cried again when Kobe announced his retirement — it was the same year I was retiring from my time as a player, so it hit home especially hard. I cried every time I read his letter to basketball. I cried when he dropped 60 points in his last game, and I cried when he won an Oscar.
But years before any of that, years after the incident but when I was old enough to understand it, I cried when I learned that Kobe — my idol — had been accused of rape in 2003.
I won’t outline the details of the case here, they can be found easily on the internet. But charges were eventually dropped, and we may never know for sure what happened in that hotel room. I cannot talk about how much Kobe meant to me, or how much he changed me as a person, without talking about this disgraceful stain on his career.
His winning championships for my city, him battling through injury for the game we both loved, him breaking records and getting jerseys retired do not overshadow or compensate for the experience this woman went through. Her story is intertwined with his legacy.
And for many women, myself included, idolizing Kobe and eventually mourning his loss is confusing and complicated. I believe women, on principle. I believe the woman who accused Kobe. I believe, in my heart and soul, that assaulting a woman is among the most despicable things a person can do.
This made, and still makes, it really hard for me to see Kobe anything other than my basketball idol or someone who may have done a really bad thing. For a long time, I would ignore one in order to focus on the other. The one I chose to ignore wavered back and forth, but he was always one or the other. I couldn’t fathom him being both, ever.
How could I call myself a politically involved feminist who believes women, when I put Kobe on such a pedestal in my mind? How could I learn from him, as a player and as a person, when he’s been accused of such a heinous act?
The truth is, he’s both. At the same time. Him having this accusation doesn’t mean he was incapable of teaching me to keep shooting, even when the shots aren’t falling. It doesn’t mean Mamba Mentality isn’t the reason I am where I am today. But, at the same time, him teaching me these life and basketball lessons does not, by any means, make him perfect.
He was flawed, and not only in the sense of this situation. He once was fined for using a homophobic slur against a referee. He shot when he should have passed. He left little room for fun in practice or post-game celebrations.
But one thing I admired about Kobe was his willingness to learn, and his openness to admitting that he had room to grow. He was famous for his work-ethic and almost psychotic obsession with being the best. He wouldn’t have worked so hard and long if he believed he was already the greatest of all time.
I choose to believe that he learned from the incident that left a permanent stain on his legacy, too. He admitted after settling the case that while he still believed it was consensual, he came to understand her point of view as well, and apologized — in a way I deem heartfelt — for harm he may have caused.
I saw how much he respected women in the way he treated his daughters, and in the way he supported women’s basketball in a way no NBA player had before.
Kobe was a great dad to all four of his daughters and a great coach to his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, who also died in the same helicopter crash. Despite Kobe fans worldwide telling him he needed a son to continue his legacy, Kobe never once believed that Gianna wouldn’t be the one to do that.
It’s been a hard and confusing few days for me, but one thing is certain in my mind: the world lost a basketball legend, but more importantly, lost a man who taught an entire generation of men and women that it’s OK to not be perfect, but it’s never OK to not work day-in and day-out in order to be the best we can possibly be at whatever we choose to do.