Why Isn't Kobe Bryant More Beloved? The Answer Isn't Complicated
At the bottom of Kobe Bryant's retirement letter is a tiny logo that appears to fit perfectly with his "HeroVillain" concept. See, Bryant knows he isn't beloved by everyone, something he's discussed openly in the wake of his announcement.
"People are so complicated," Bryant told The Associated Press. "It's never one thing or the other. It's always a mixture of both things. Certain moments can define you as one thing. Monday, you may be a villain. Tuesday, you may be a hero. It's always an up-and-down thing."
What didn't come so easily was the "why." Plenty of people are complicated, but why isn't Bryant more beloved? He is the face of the Los Angeles Lakers and has been an NBA star for 20 years. He accomplished great things on the basketball court. Why isn't he liked by more basketball fans?
Heck, Michael Jordan isn't known as a benevolent figure, either, but he's never sparked the same antipathy that Bryant has.
Of course, when it comes to Bryant, there's an elephant in the room: In 2003, a Colorado woman accused him of raping her.
Up to that point, Bryant's stardom was solid. As a young player, he had his moments of minor controversy and petulance, but he was an overwhelming fan favorite with several All-Star appearances and huge endorsement deals to complement his multiple championships.
But all that couldn't withstand the allegations and details that emerged during the course of the rape investigation. The young husband and father was no longer the picture-perfect pitchman. He lost deals with McDonald's and Nutella during the course of the criminal case, which dissolved when his accuser no longer wanted to participate. Bryant released an apology upon the charges being dropped, which read, in part:
"I also want to make it clear that I do not question the motives of this young woman. No money has been paid to this woman. She has agreed that this statement will not be used against me in the civil case. Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter."
Even though the rape case is rarely mentioned anymore, Bryant's image has never been the same. So, is it really just that Bryant is particularly complicated?
By handling his own retirement announcement, Bryant could manufacture the narrative to a point, but that doesn't mean we have to stick to his script.
Yes, Bryant settled the civil case, but sports writers and analysts didn't sign the non-disclosure agreement. It's actually fine for us to talk about -- citing the facts -- while discussing Bryant's legacy, because it's part of his career. And now, it's a subtext of his marketing campaign for his post-basketball business.
There are many players who are complicated, layered people who evoke different reactions in fans, and then there are those who will brand themselves part villain for profit.
Other things on my mind this week:
It's not just sports. Here's a look at how a dozen or so non-disclosure agreements have kept R. Kelly on the top of the charts. "Why haven't we reached a Cosby-style tipping point with him?" Via Vulture.
Not to bore you with more adoration for Amy Schumer (goddess, feminist, maker of funny) but she posed nearly naked for the 2016 Pirelli calendar. Schumer's shot is an amazing middle finger to the image of gaunt perfection women are supposed to starve themselves into, but she isn't the most remarkable thing about the calendar. Serena Williams and Patti Smith are among the other powerful women represented. I applaud this, and if Annie Liebovitz seeks additional subjects for next year's calendar, I'm pretty sure I'm free.
Devon Still announced via Instagram that his daughter Leah no longer has cancer. Everyone together, Yaaaaay!
Lauren Hill and O.J. Brigance receive the 2016 NCAA Inspiration Award. Hard to believe it's been almost a year since Hill died, but what an impact she made.