Basically, it's Bryant in the kind of high-fashion getup that is absolutely normal in fashion magazines, but pretty unusual for athletes.
People are freaking out about it, but honestly, why? To pose for cameras in semi-ridiculous settings is what celebrities do. Theirs is a business where people spend months arranging a few hours of your time. You show up, they play some hip hop, you meet the artsy people in charge, they have someone apply moisturizer to your head, and then they point you to a rack of clothes they have been carefully selected with you in mind.
You put them on, they take some pictures and all those people out there keep you out of the "what ever happened to that guy" category. Instead, you go to parties with A-list celebrities who have posed in similar ridiculous clothes and everyone says "oooooooh, I loved that photo shoot you did," and that's a non-trivial part of how you stay on top of your celebrity game.
If you're the star who will only ever be seen wearing and doing things you think are cool, then you're going to be canceling photo shoots left and right. Maybe all of them. You just have to trust the image makers sometimes.
Not to mention, the best money you can ever make off the court is by getting really involved in pitching products in TV commercials. This is the line of work where you have to be convincing that product A is far better than product B, while in reality the two are nearly identical.
Getting comfortable adoring this pizza or soda or sport drink or sneaker or whatever is not so different from getting comfortable in the clothes of fashionistas. If we agree it's all a little harmless theater, why are we only upset about the fashion shoot?
I'll tell you why. It has nothing to do with Bryant, either. It's because those photos were a tad feminine, which a lot of sports fans find terrifying. They will be among the very last people anywhere to shrug off anything that's at all like gender bending. (There's a reason homosexuals are out of the closet just about everywhere in 2010 America except in sports, and it's not entirely unrelated.)
To which I say: You'll get over that fear eventually and when you do, you'll be happier. It's a myth that real men are determined by their jeans or hard hats or whatever it is you think he should be wearing instead. Bryant plays injured. He gets up at the crack of dawn to be better prepared than any other NBA players. He takes the big shots. He stares daggers. He intimidates men five inches taller and fifty pounds heavier. He even makes time to be a dad. He's plenty macho, and having spent a few minutes in a see-through sleeveless hoodie doesn't change that.
It's a powerful urge, to make fun of men for being feminine. Even Bryant felt he had to distance himself from the shoot a little, telling Mark Medina (who writes, of all places, for the L.A. Times) that the photos were "a little doctored up." (Which, by the way, read on, the magazine insists was not true.)
Asking people to act macho all the time is asking them to lie, and that's pointless. Let Kobe wear whatever he -- or the art director he's working with -- wants. Judge him by his actions, not that tablecloth he had draped artfully around his head.
There was one other thing about those photos, though, that grabbed my attention.
You see what's missing?
Tattoo removal has been an issue in the NBA after a famous episode involving Allen Iverson years ago. Is it possible the L.A. Times didn't fell victim to those same temptations? Did they really alter Bryant's skin, with makeup or digital something-or-other to make him look, in their eyes, "better?"
A spokeswoman for the L.A. Times clears up the mystery. "Kobe was not made-up for the shoot and there was no retouching," she says. "However, the picture was reversed ... the tattoo in question is on the opposite side."